Interpreting article 16 of the 1951 Refugee Convention: A study of State obligations to ensure access to courts for asylum seekers and refugees under international law

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Copyright: Dunlop, Emma
This thesis examines the scope and content of article 16 of the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It asks: What obligations bind Contracting States to provide asylum seekers and refugees with access to courts under article 16 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and do these obligations extend beyond those that otherwise bind States under international human rights treaties, customary international law, and general principles of law? The thesis identifies eight issues on which scholars’ views have evolved over time on article 16. These are (i) whether the term ‘refugee’ in article 16 encompasses the unrecognised asylum seeker; (ii) the scope of the term ‘courts’, and the provision’s application to refugee status determination proceedings; (iii) the geographic scope of the provision; (iv) whether ‘free’ access implies a guarantee of ‘effective’ access; (v) the appropriate definition of ‘habitual residence’, and whether legal residence is a prerequisite; (vi) the scope of the term ‘matters pertaining to access to the Courts’; (vii) the appropriate comparator for whether a ‘refugee’ is afforded ‘the same treatment as a national’; and (viii) whether article 16 obliges the Contracting State to create jurisdiction to hear a dispute where a court otherwise lacks competence. Through doctrinal analysis, the thesis investigates the historical origins of article 16; the extent to which its protections have been subsumed by international human rights law, customary international law, and general principles of law; and its ultimate scope. It concludes that gaps remain in the protective framework of international human rights law and general international law, but that the interpretative approach taken by courts and treaty bodies to the human rights treaties analysed – particularly regarding the principle of effectiveness – could usefully be adapted to interpret article 16. Applying an evolutionary, teleological approach to the interpretation of the 1951 Convention, the thesis then reaches conclusions on article 16’s scope and content that respond to the eight issues identified. It concludes that article 16 remains a relevant and robust source of protection for asylum seekers and refugees.
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty