The 1951 Refugee Convention is the key legal document governing international standards for refugee work and is administered by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), established in 1950 to handle the millions of people displaced in the aftermath of World War II. Ratified by 145 State parties, the convention defines the term “refugee” and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of nations and states to protect them. The U.S. government declined to ratify this convention.
The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law. Standards and procedures for enacting the convention were agreed to in the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which the U.S. government did ratify.
UNHCR serves as the ‘guardian’ of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol and works with States to ensure that the rights of refugees are respected and protected.
Final Act of the United Nations Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons
I. The General Assembly of the United Nations, by Resolution 429 (V) of 14 December 1950, decided to convene in Geneva a Conference of Plenipotentiaries to complete the drafting of, and to sign, a Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and a Protocol relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.
The Conference met at the European Office of the United Nations in Geneva from 2 to 25 July 1951.