Centre for Legal Research, Nottingham Trent University
Place of publication
The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 ("the Convention") is over fifty years old. It is the most comprehensive legally binding international standard for the treatment of refugees.' The Convention governs the rights of refugees and the obligations of ratifying State parties towards refugees. The key aspect of the Convention is article 1A(2), which sets out the Convention definition of a refugee. It provides that a refugee is a person who: Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.2 At the international law level the definition has remained (effectively)3 unchanged during this period. However, there has been a considerable amount of uncertainty at the domestic level concerning the precise meaning that should be given to important aspects of the definition, such as "particular social group" and "persecution". Given that the Convention is the principal international instrument dealing with the rights of refugees (since it was ratified by Denmark in 1952, 140 states have acceded to the Convention)4 and the importance of the interests and indeterminate nature of several aspects of the definition of refugee, the interpretive approach adopted in relation to the Convention is of considerable importance.
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