OVERVIEW OF THE TOPIC
Hailed as the “magna charta of refugees” and the “foundation of the international refugee protection regime”, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention), together with its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (Protocol), is the key international instrument for the protection of refugees. International refugee protection today faces challenges, including forced displacement caused by armed conflicts, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees noted: “Wars are driving more and more people to seek asylum … [T]his makes upholding the international system of asylum more critical than ever.” Since 1945, the world has seen numerous, mostly non-international armed conflicts. In 2013, there were 33 active armed conflicts worldwide, while 32 armed conflicts persisted in 2012. The number of forcefully displaced people has grown in recent years, with armed conflicts constituting a major cause.
Since 2000, Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Syria – countries which have experienced armed conflict – have been amongst the main countries of origin of asylumseekers in industrialised States.
While forced displacement is oft en a side-effect of armed confl ict, it can also be prompted by systematic human rights abuses and by violations of international humanitarian law (IHL). The 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent emphasised that:
“armed conflicts continue to cause enormous suffering, including violations of IHL, such as murder, forced disappearance, the taking of hostages, torture, cruel or inhumane treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence.”
Civilians frequently bear the brunt of hostilities in today's armed conflicts. In contravention of IHL, the civilian population is oft en directly targeted. Recent armed conflicts have seen civilians forced to flee because of inter alia mass killings, sexual violence and mutilations, and thus due to IHL violations. Regarding Somalia, for example, UNHCR noted that the armed conflict in the country has been a major cause of forced displacement and has been characterised by consistent failure of the parties to the conflict to respect fundamental principles of IHL. Armed conflicts today have numerous, oft en inter-related causes. Some are economic in nature, such as control over national resources,17 while others concern identity politics, i.e. claims for power based on a certain ethnic, religious or other identity.