This project examines whether a general principle of ‘protection’ exists in international law, and if so, what are its legal, practical and operational implications for States and international organizations. A general principle of protection could contribute to better policy (that is, policy aligned with human security and human dignity), and to the more effective management of interest areas that States view as critical, such as borders and migration.
‘Protection’ and ‘international protection’ are commonly used when discussing the movements of people between States today; not surprisingly, what is intended depends very much on who is talking, on the user and the context. For example, legal protection has a very particular focus. Protection here can mean using legal tools, including treaties and national laws, which prescribe or implement the obligations of States and which are intended to ensure that no refugee in search of asylum is penalized, expelled or refouled, that every refugee enjoys the full complement of rights and benefits to which he or she is entitled as a refugee; and that the human rights of every refugee are guaranteed. In this approach, protection is primarily based in international refugee and human rights law; it may be wider than rights, but it begins with rights and rights tend to characterise the picture as a whole. Moreover, although solutions remain the ultimate objective of the international refugee regime, protection can be and often is an end in itself, so far as it serves to ensure the fundamental human rights of the individual.
In common parlance, and in common practice, ‘protection’ clearly goes beyond the provision of rights and security for refugees, whether fleeing persecution or conflict. Among others, it is implicit in the ‘duty’ of rescue, in the reception of the shipwrecked and of those forced to move by reason of famine and drought, and in the sanctuary often given to those subject to discrimination or liable to penalties falling short of ‘persecution’, because of their religious or philosophical beliefs. Although less prominent today, protection may also be extended for political reasons, reflecting particular inter-State relations, as in the Cold War.