Students Staff

19 December 2014

Report proposes UN refugee agency engage with ‘rule of law’

A University of Essex professor has advised the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to improve its engagement with the ‘rule of law’ concept and with other UN bodies in order to enhance the long-term welfare of millions of refugees worldwide.

Speaking in Geneva this week, Professor Geoff Gilbert presented a report that showed how better engagement could help create more durable, sustainable solutions that will allow refugees, stateless persons, and internally displaced people to be self-reliant in the future.

Professor Gilbert, of the University’s School of Law and Human Rights Centre, was commissioned by UNHCR to write the report in a landmark $50,000 project.

Working with Essex graduate Anna Magdalena Rüsch, Professor Gilbert travelled to Niger and Colombia, where he interviewed refugees and internally displaced people, as well as government officials, judiciary, UNHCR field practitioners, other UN actors, and NGOs.

As part of the project they also met with UN officials and other international actors in New York and Geneva.

Professor Gilbert explained: “’Rule of law’ is now a concept at the very heart of the UN’s mission. In its broadest terms it is about ensuring that all individuals, organisations, including the UN, public and private bodies, and states themselves are governed by, and accountable to fair and equitable laws that are recognised and promoted.

“In relation to providing solutions for refugees, rule of law offers an opportunity to bring all the necessary parties together to provide a needs and community-based approach that solves the unmet needs, not just of persons of concern to the High Commissioner, but also the local communities alongside whom they are living. It is about giving them all access to their human rights so as to enable them all to live a self-determined life.”

He added: “Despite the ‘rule of law’ providing the foundation for UNHCR activities, the organisation does not currently use the language. This means other UN actors can fail to include these vulnerable communities in the international planning process.”

The final report will be formally submitted in January and taken forward by UNHCR.


More information

Professor Gilbert’s report to UNHCR is an internal report and not publicly available. If you would like to interview Professor Gilbert, or for further information please contact the University of Essex Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529 or email:

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