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The international protection of refugees and asylum seekers: New thinking, or no future?

GuestBlogger28 February 2016

pencil-iconWritten by Gaiane Nuridzhanian, PhD candidate, UCL Laws
refugees_train-610x360

On 24 February 2016 Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill, Emeritus Professor of International Refugee Law at the University of Oxford, spoke at UCL about the current migrant crisis and the new approaches to employing the existing framework of international protection of refugees and asylum seekers to overcome it.

According to Professor Goodwin-Gill, one of the gaps of the current international legal system for refugee and asylum seekers protection lies in the failure to establish a framework based on co-operation and reciprocity. Indeed, such basic instruments as the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees do not contain provisions, which identify a specific state responsible for assisting a refugee or asylum seeker or a third state that should extend its co-operation to the refugee receiving state.

The system can be improved by refining the existing institutions rather than by revising the treaty base. For instance, revising the UNHCR statute to expressly include stateless and internally displaced persons within its mandate, providing proper funding for the UNHCR, enhancing UN inter-agency co-operation and devising an early-warning system to be managed by the UN bodies.

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One Country, Two Systems: an unfinished experiment?

ThomasHughes12 February 2016

In this lecture by the former Dean of Law of the University of Hong Kong, Professor Johannes Chan, we were taken on a whistle-stop tour of the history of the legal and political confrontations between Hong Kong and the mainland government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

By Pasu Au Yeung via Wikimedia Commons

Protesters during the Umbrella Movement. By Pasu Au Yeung via Wikimedia Commons

Most people’s recent images of Hong Kong are dominated by the “Umbrella Movement” of 2014. The mostly student protestors were pushing for the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) in mainland China to allow a free selection of candidates for the Hong Kong Chief Executive and Legislative council.

This was the culmination of increasing tensions between the two regions as they have spent the 20 years since Hong Kong was returned to China testing the boundaries of their relationship.

Since the protests, the NPCSC has been looking to exercise greater control over Hong Kong. Publishers and journalists have disappeared and academia has been interfered with. So what has gone wrong in this relationship?

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Lunch Hour Lectures: International Law and the protection of cultural property in war

ThomasHughes9 February 2016

Unusually for a Lunch Hour Lecture, Professor Roger O’Keefe (UCL Laws) spoke without the support of slides for nearly an hour about international efforts to protect cultural heritage in war zones – because he believed that images illustrating instances of cultural damage would simply be too depressing.

By Bernard Gagnon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12163785

Monument Arch in Palmyra, Syria. Now destroyed by IS.

International law

International law prohibits the damaging of cultural sites during war, and almost all UN member states have signed up to this. These agreements are often criticised however for failing to protect a number of cultural sites from damage or destruction.

This has particularly been the case in the Syrian civil war, where a number of high profile sites such as crusader castles and ancient temples have been damaged.

However, as Professor O’Keefe pointed out, few laws are perfect: for example, people still carry out murder despite strong laws against it and serious punishments for this crime. In his view, the law against the damaging of cultural heritage sites, while not perfect, makes important efforts to protect these historical areas.

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Chevron Case: Ecuador’s Defense

GuestBlogger25 November 2015

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Written by Ira Ryk-Lakhman, MPhil/PhD candidate (UCL Laws)

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Dr Martins Paparinskis (on left) with Dr Diego Garcia Carrion

On Friday, 13 November 2015, Dr Diego Garcia Carrion, the Attorney General for Ecuador came to UCL to present his book “Chevron Case: Defense of Ecuador”, and discuss the Ecuadorian position in one of the most important and controversial international dispute settlement cases at the moment – Chevron v. Ecuador. Importantly, the event was not intended to constitute a full and exhaustive legal or factual discussion of the case and the parties’ contentions, but merely a presentation of the main points of the Ecuadorian perspective.

The Ecuadorean Attorney General’s presentation was co-organised by UCL Laws and UCL Global Governance Institute and Investment Law and Policy. Dr Martins Paparinskis, convenor of International Law of Foreign Investments course at UCL Laws, chaired the event. The event was filmed by the Ecuadorian Embassy, and complimentary copies of the book were handed to the participants.

In brief, in September 2009 Chevron brought its claim against Ecuador to an investor-State arbitration tribunal under the US-Ecuador BIT. The claim primarily alleges denial of justice by Ecuador’s courts in a domestic dispute relating to environmental and social harms due to contamination resulting from oil production in Lago Agrio region (Chevron’s position on the dispute). The case is still pending, and raises hard questions about international investment arbitration, which are of considerable conceptual and practical importance. Can international investment arbitration successfully address the public elements of private disputes? What is the role of parties, non-parties, and participants in investment arbitration? Can investment arbitration resolve the interplay between different substantive and procedural regimes of domestic and international law? Is ad hoc arbitration an appropriate regime of dispute settlement for dealing with legal and factual issues of such complexity? How do States’ representatives think and act upon these issues?

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