The «rights turn» in refugee protection: an analysis of UNHCR’s adoption of the human rights based approach

Ilse Griek


In this article, the significance of UNHCR’s adoption of the «human rights-based approach» (HRBA) for refugee protection and assistance in camp settings is analysed. The value of the HRBA in humanitarian action is questioned, for refugees and humanitarian organizations alike. Given the absence of accountability for the human rights of refugees, it is argued that these rights are rendered meaningless in practice. To have full meaning, rights must be accompanied by remedies. This requires accountability mechanisms and the allocation of responsibility for violations of refugees’ rights. Furthermore, where rights are selectively and uncritically applied in camp settings, the result may not be conducive to refugee protection or even to durable solutions. It is argued that the current western vision of rights is not necessarily appropriate in all refugee settings, and that it may be time to adopt a more dialogical approach to ‘rights’, such as that advocated by the notion of «tactical humanism».

Published online: 11 December 2017


rights-based approach; humanitarian assistance; UNHCR; refugees; refugee policy; human rights; protection; durable solutions

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