Archive for the ‘international law’ Category



The Refugee Studies Centre of the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford will be holding a two day course on “Palestine Refugees and International Law” at the The British Institute, in Amman, Jordan on 6-7 March 2015 and at the Asfari Institute, American University of Beirut, Lebanon on 13-14 March 2015:

About the course

This two day short course places the Palestinian refugee case study within the broader context of the international human rights regime. It examines, within a human rights framework, the policies and practices of Middle Eastern states as they impinge upon Palestinian refugees. Through a mix of lectures, working group exercises and interactive sessions, participants engage actively and critically with the contemporary debates in international law and analyse the specific context of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel).

The short course commences with the background of the Palestinian refugee crisis, with special attention to the socio- political historical context and legal status of Palestinian refugees in the region. This is followed by a careful examination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including its philosophical underpinnings and ensuing human rights instruments in international law. The key themes, which have taken centre stage in the debate on the Palestinian refugee crisis, are statelessness, right of return, repatriation, self-determination, restitution compensation and protection. These themes are critically examined along with current discussions about the respective roles of UNRWA, UNHCR and the UNCCP in the Palestinian refugee case.

This course is suitable for: experienced practitioners; graduate researchers; parliamentarians and staff; members of the legal profession; government officials; and personnel of inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations.

This programme qualifies for Continuing Professional Development with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (CPD SRA) in the United Kingdom.


Dawn Chatty, Professor of Anthropology and Forced Migration, Refugee Studies Centre

Professor Dawn Chatty is a social anthropologist and has conducted extensive research among Palestinian and other forced migrants in the Middle East. Some of her recent works include Children of Palestine: Experiencing Forced Migration in the Middle East (ed. with Gillian Lewando-Hundt), Berghahn Press, 2005, and Dispossession and Displacement in the Modern Middle East, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Susan M Akram, Clincal Professor, Boston University School of Law

Professor Susan M Akram teaches immigration law, comparative refugee law, and international human rights law at Boston University. She is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC (JD), and the Institut International des Droits de l’Homme, Strasbourg (Diploma in international human rights). She is a past Fulbright Senior Scholar in Palestine, teaching at Al-Quds University/Palestine School of Law in East Jerusalem.


Fee: £350. The fee includes tuition, lunch and all course materials. Participants will need to meet their own travel and accommodation costs and arrange any country entry requirements.

Instructions for payment of course fee will be sent with your offer of place. Your place will be confirmed once payment has been received. Offers are made on a first-come-first-served basis to suitably qualified and experienced applicants.

Maximum twenty-five spaces

The Palestine Refugees and International Law short course is also an optional module within the International Summer School in Forced Migration. Candidates may wish to apply to attend the Summer School.

Click here to complete the online application form.

For all enquiries, please contact:

Heidi El-Megrisi

Refugee Studies Centre

Oxford Department of International Development University of Oxford

3 Mansfield Road

Oxford OX1 3TB, UK


Tel: +44 (0)1865 281728


The Jerusalem Post published an editorial yesterday critical of UNRWA for artificially keeping the Palestinian refugee issue alive by inflating the number of “real” refugees:

This becomes evident when we consider the different definitions for “refugee” to which UNHCR and UNRWA subscribe. UNHCR’s refugee is one who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted… is outside the country of his nationality.” By this definition, the refugee’s descendants are not refugees. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.

The only exceptions are the Palestinians. UNRWA classifies as refugees any Arabs, native or not, who sojourned “in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Not only could any itinerant foreign Arab laborer claim Palestinian refugee status, but UNRWA stipulates that the condition extends to “descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948.” One refugee parent suffices to inherit the distinction – even when the inheritor is not “outside the country of one’s nationality.”

By UNHCR’s yardstick, more than 97 percent of those whom UNRWA regards as refugees are nothing of the sort. In 1948, there were some 600,000 self-styled Palestine refugees. UNRWA now boasts that it cares for 5,000,000 people.

One again, the editorial repeats the canard that UNHCR would not consider the descendants of (stateless) Palestinian refugees as refugees. This is simply not true: for UNHCR, refugee status ends when refugees are able to avail themselves of the protection of another state, usually through acquiring citizenship. Refugees who are unable to do so maintain their status, and their children are considered to have “derivative status.”

All of this is made amply clear in UNHCR’s  Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determination under UNHCR’s Mandate, Section 5.1.1 of which notes:

  • Family members/dependants of a recognized refugee may apply for derivative refugee status in accordance with their right to family unity.
  • Family members/dependants who are determined to fall within the criteria for refugee status in their own right should be granted refugee status rather than derivative refugee status.
  • Individuals who obtain derivative refugee status enjoy the same rights and entitlements as other recognized refugees, and should retain this status notwithstanding the subsequent dissolution of the family through separation, divorce, death, or the fact that a child reaches the age of majority.

UNHCRmandatePalestinians who have acquired citizenship elsewhere (as is the case with most in Jordan) would not be considered UNHCR refugees, but those in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, as well as stateless refugees in Jordan and elsewhere, certainly would.

Having got its fundamental facts wrong, the Jerusalem Post goes one further with its bizarre comment that “Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.” One assumes they mean refugees, not homeless, but the point is that Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are American citizens. The 2 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza are refugees because there is no Palestinian state—in other words, because of Israeli policy. Syria and Lebanon choose not to naturalize the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians resident there—which has nothing to do with UNRWA or its rules. Many of the former, of course, face new displacements as a consequence of civil war.

On a minor technical note, UNRWA’s refugee rules relate to service eligibility, which is somewhat different than UNHCR status determination. Also, UNHCR rules DO apply to Palestinians outside UNRWA’s fields of operation, but that error by the Jerusalem Post is rather secondary to its overall lack of comprehension of the refugee issue. Indeed, it is striking the extent to which this sort of misunderstanding continues, even though UNHCR procedures are easily accessible online. It is an perverse echo chamber effect of sorts, where loud and misinformed ideological positions drive out thoughtful and informed analysis if repeated often enough. Neither Israel nor Palestinian refugees nor the search for peace are well-served by any of this.

Finally, it is important to recognize that salience of the refugee issue in Palestinian political discourse has little relationship to UN rules, but is fundamentally rooted in the shared collective experience of dispossession and forced displacement. Jews maintained a yearning to “return” to their homeland for millennia in the diaspora, without an UNRWA or UNHCR. Why is it surprising that Palestinians do too, a mere 66 years after they too were driven into exile?

The IDF has released a series of maps and images depicting incidents where Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters allegedly fired from near (or, in one case, within) UNRWA facilities. According to the accompanying graph, this has occurred some 30 times during the conflict. It is not clear from the IDF presentation what the criteria for proximate fire is—much of urban Gaza, after all, is within 200m of some school or clinic—but the maps certainly show a few cases were launches were adjacent. These firings would represent a very small proportion (about 0.9%) of all rockets fired from Gaza during the conflict.


There has been no suggestion from the IDF that the UN has willingly permitted such actions. UNRWA has no ability to stop what armed groups may do near its buildings or in unoccupied facilities.

During this same period, at least 44 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire at or near UN shelters. To date, nine UNRWA staff have also been killed during the fighting

Contrary to belief in some quarters, firing from and to civilian areas is permitted during combat under international humanitarian law. Indeed, it is characteristic of virtually all urban warfare. However, combatants are not supposed to do so in ways that put civilians at particular risk, and are clearly prohibited from using civilians to shield their activities. Under Article 8.2.b.xxiii of the Statutes of the International Criminal Court, “utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations” constitutes a war crime. Certainly some Hamas and PIJ rocket launches would appear to violate that requirement (quite apart from being a war crime because they are poorly aimed, and fired in the direction of Israeli towns and cities). The ICC currently has no jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian territory, which would require either a reference by the United Nations Security Council or Palestinian accession to the Court. Israel is not an ICC signatory, nor is it party to the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts.

IHL recognizes that weapons will malfunction and mistakes will be made—warfare, after all, is a chaotic and messy business, in which troops do not always correctly identify targets (evidenced by the frequency with which they fire upon their own side). However commanders are required to take into consideration the precision and reliability of weapons when these are used in proximity to protected persons and sites.

Otherwise protected sites lose their IHL protection when used for military purposes. However, regardless of this, military action in urban areas is always limited by the fundamental requirement that it be discriminate and that the collateral damage inflicted on civilians be proportionate to the military advantage so gained. Firing an artillery barrage in the general vicinity of thousands of civilians and small handful of combatants, for example would likely not meet the IHL requirements for proportionality, nor would attacking a trio of PIJ militants on a motorcycle outside a crowded refugee shelter.

For other PRRN coverage of these issues, see:


Posted: July 30, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Hamas, international law, Israel, UNRWA


UNRWA operates in five different, and very politically-fraught, contexts: an Israeli occupied West Bank (with a local Palestinian Authority); a Hamas-controlled Gaza; a Jordan that is highly sensitive to the demographic politics of the Palestinian presence; Lebanon, where demographic sensitivity is augmented by restrictive government policies and greater insecurity; and a bloody and authoritarian Syria where more than 150,000 people have died in the ongoing civil war. The refugees for whom it provides services have strong Palestinian nationalist views, as naturally do the vast bulk of its (Palestinian) employees. Its funding primarily comes from the West, however. Fully one-quarter of its budget comes from Israel’s greatest ally, the United States.

And, in this context of conflict, tension, and differing perspectives it must remain “neutral.” It comes as no surprise that former UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi used to characterize the issue of neutrality as the agency’s greatest operational challenge.

During the current war in Gaza, questions have been raised again about the agency’s neutrality. On three occasions, weapons caches have been found in UNRWA schools that were closed for the summer. Additional controversy was generated when UNRWA—a humanitarian organization completely unequipped to deal with potentially lethal explosives—sought have the weapons removed by munitions experts linked not to Hamas but rather to the Palestinian unity government in Ramallah. Who these experts were, and where the rockets ended up, remains unclear, but critics charge they were returned to Hamas. In another case, armed men apparent removed the weapons before they could be dealt with. UNRWA has strongly and vociferously condemned efforts to hide weapons in its facilities, and stepped up its inspection regime:

UNRWA strongly and unequivocally condemns the group or groups responsible for this flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.

The Agency immediately informed the relevant parties and is pursuing all possible measures for the removal of the objects in order to preserve the safety and security of the school. UNRWA will launch a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident.

UNRWA has reinforced and continues to implement its robust procedures to maintain the neutrality of all its premises, including a strict no-weapons policy and regular inspections of its installations, to ensure they are only used for humanitarian purposes.

Palestinian civilians in Gaza rely on UNRWA to provide humanitarian assistance and shelter. At all times, and especially during escalations of violence, the sanctity and integrity of UN installations must be respected.

The UN is investigating the Agency’s handling of these situations.

It is not clear what else UNRWA could have done. The schools were closed and unstaffed. UNRWA does not have armed guards or a police force, nor could they function in Gaza with one. The UN does not have the capacity in Gaza to handle a complex explosive ordnance disposal task like this. Israel had no capacity to take custody of the rockets, and handing over to weapons to another belligerent would have been just as problematic from a neutrality point-of-view. There was no secure way safely transport the weapons out of Gaza during a war. And given its control on the ground, if Hamas wanted to take custody of the weapons no one was in a position to prevent them. Anyone who thinks there was an easy fix to the situation clearly has little understanding of circumstances on the ground, or is being deliberately obtuse to serve a broader political agenda.

A second and much more serious neutrality issue was raised by Israeli reports today that its troops found a tunnel entrance inside an UNRWA clinic—and that the building itself was booby-trapped and exploded, killing three IDF soldiers.

However, the IDF is now backing off on that original claim, noting that the clinic may not have been a UN facility after all. According to the Times of Israel:

Three IDF soldiers were killed Wednesday morning in Gaza in an explosion at a booby-trapped UNRWA health clinic that housed a tunnel entry shaft, the IDF’s Gaza Division commander, Brig. Gen. Micky Edelstein, said in a briefing.

After describing certain precautionary measures, Edelstein said, “And then we enter with our people, and they [the militants], from the very same terror tunnel, they blow up half the clinic on our troops.”

UNRWA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the military unit that implements government policies in the Palestinian areas, later said that the clinic in Abu Daka, outside Khan Younis, was last registered as a sensitive location three years ago, “and it hasn’t been since.”

The spokesperson said the site had not been registered then as belonging to UNRWA, leading to speculation that, perhaps, militants stole the sign and tacked it on the door, posting it as a security umbrella under which a tunnel could be dug.

If it was an UNRWA clinic, a detailed investigation and follow-up will be required. If instead the UN logo was misused, UNRWA will undoubtedly protest this abuse too. If Israeli soldiers were confused, the Agency will likely quietly complain to the IDF. If it was a former clinic and an honest mistake by the IDF, these things happen. In any case, the “booby-trapped clinic” story will continue to reverberate on the internet regardless of whether, as now seems likely, it is disproved.

Violations of UNRWA’s neutrality by armed groups in Gaza is actually very rare—indeed, these recent incidents are the only ones to have taken place in the last twenty years or more. Previously, the Agency’s bigger problem was with Israel temporarily misusing UN facilities for military purposes in the West Bank as observation posts or detention centres during the second intifada, something that has happened a dozen or so times.

A broader critique levelled at the organization is that some of its employees may support Hamas or other radical armed groups. In a political environment where Hamas enjoys the support of about one-third of the Palestinian population, it is almost certainly the case that this happens. However the Agency has a strict neutrality policy that prohibits overt politics by employees, who face disciplinary action of dismissal for any such activity. Moreover, the Agency supplies its full employee lists to Israel and other host governments for vetting every year. At no point has Israel ever requested that the Agency take action against a particular employee because of affiliation with a terrorist group. UNRWA’s neutrality policies are frequently audited by donors, and especially by the United States. Usually these find a few areas where they would like the Agency to strengthen efforts, but otherwise are very positive.

For their part, Palestinians sometimes criticize the organization for tilting towards Israel and the United States. There has been unhappiness that UNRWA curriculum doesn’t teach more about Palestinian national history. Hamas has been critical of the Agency’s human rights lessons. It also has strongly opposed the Agency’s periodic summer youth activities, seeing these as a moderate rival to Hamas’ own militant summer camps. (The US, on the other hand, has praised the Agency’s youth activities as an “indispensable counterweight to extremism.”)

The issues raised above are just those with regard to the occupied Palestinian territories too. Issues of neutrality arise in other ways in Jordan, Lebanon, and especially Syria. How, for example, does the Agency manage to protect neutrality when it must necessarily deal with both the Syrian government and opposition armed groups there? Dialogue with one is easily seen by the other as tantamount to treason.

In short, the Agency is in a very difficult position. It has no ability to force actors to observe its neutrality beyond diplomacy and moral suasion. Everyone from donors to host countries to Palestinian groups to Israel would like to use it to further their own respective interests. Given all that, it is clear that it has generally done an excellent job of navigating political shoals and safeguarding neutrality amidst the ongoing challenges posed by conflict, violence, and an unresolved Palestinian refugee problem.


The number of Palestinians driven from their homes in Gaza by Israeli military action is now approaching half a million, with some 204,166 of these sheltering in 86 UNRWA shelters. UN facilities have been hit by fire on multiple occasions, and there have been two attacks that caused substantial loss of life, at schools in Beit Hanoun (where 16 died) and Jabliya (where up to 20 have died during apparent Israeli shelling).

UNRWA and other UN staff have been working selflessly to provide shelter, food, and medical attention, inform the world, and raise desperately-needed resources, not only for Gaza but also for the ongoing crisis in Syria, and serious conditions in other areas of operations. While doing so, five six UN staff have been killed in various incidents in recent days.

The video clip below is of UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness, who has been tireless in his efforts to convey the horror of what has been happening. He is finally overcome with emotion at it all (0:20 onwards), while in an interview with al-Jazeera .

PRRN would like to thank all of those humanitarian workers, at UNRWA and elsewhere, doing their very best at the very worst of times


Via the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford:

Palestine Refugees and International Law Short Course

Dates: 15-16 March 2013

Venue: The British Institute, Amman, Jordan

Convenors: Professor Dawn Chatty (RSC) and Professor Susan Akram (Boston University)
This two-day non-residential workshop places the Palestinian refugee case study within the broader context of the international human rights regime. It examines, within a human rights framework, the policies and practices of Middle Eastern states as they impinge upon Palestinian refugees. Through a mix of lectures, working group exercises and interactive sessions, participants engaged actively and critically with the contemporary debates in international law and analyse the specific context of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel).

The fee for this short course is £350 and includes a course pack of materials, and refreshments (lunches, morning and afternoon tea/coffee breaks).

The course has a maximum of twenty-five spaces.

For further details and how to apply see:

A reminder that the forthcoming short course takes place in Jordan in March. Please note that the programme qualifies for Continuing Professional Development with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (CPD SRA) in the United Kingdom