Refugee Responses, State-Like Behavior, and Accountability for Human Rights Violations: A Case Study of Sexual Violence in Guinea's Refugee Camps

By Farmer, Alice | Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal, Annual 2006 | Go to article overview
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Refugee Responses, State-Like Behavior, and Accountability for Human Rights Violations: A Case Study of Sexual Violence in Guinea's Refugee Camps


Farmer, Alice, Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal


This Article advocates for better access to justice and a more comprehensive accountability system in refugee camps. Refugee women are frequently subject to sexual violence and sexual exploitation in the country of refuge, and find themselves without ways of redressing these fundamental rights violations. This Article uses the sexual violence and sexual exploitation that was documented in refugee camps in Guinea in 2002 as an illustrative case study of the protection problems faced by refugee women in many parts of the world. The author argues that the host government, UNHCR, and various non-governmental organizations operated together to fulfill state-like functions in long-term refugee camps, but their efforts left accountability, access to justice, and enforcement of women's human rights laws sorely lacking. The movement toward rights based refuge -embraced in varying forms by the aid providers in Guinea--provides a theoretical and practical framework for greater rights recognition, but has not yet delivered a complete response to the specific human rights violations faced by refugee women. If rights-based refuge is to succeed in refugee settings like Guinea, aid providers must make the protection of women's human rights a central concern by instituting a robust, multi-layered system of accountability to which all refugee women have access.

INTRODUCTION

Women and girls in refugee camps around the world are deeply vulnerable to sexual violence and sexual exploitation. (1) Not only are many of these women subject to sexual violence when fleeing their home countries, but they find themselves in desperate need of food or shelter, in perilous security situations, and often without the protection of family members in their countries of refuge. Sexual violence and sexual exploitation, which in many contexts have deep cultural roots, but which are greatly exacerbated in the refugee setting, constitute violations of refugee women's fundamental human rights. In emergency and post-emergency situations, protecting the rights of refugee women is both a task of crucial importance and a task that has not yet been adequately met.

Refugee women lack access to justice and accountability mechanisms. Over the past decade, there have been broad attempts to incorporate human rights norms into refugee responses. Many of the actors that provide relief to refugees--including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ("UNHCR") and a committed cadre of international non-governmental organizations ("NGOs")--have embraced the concept of rights-based refuge. However, rights-based refuge--which recognizes the fundamental human dignity and rights-bearing nature of the refugee--must be interpreted in a more generous and comprehensive manner in order to be fully effective for refugee women. Looking at rights-based refuge through the lens of sexual violence tests the commitment of aid providers to this re-conceptualized notion of humanitarian aid. As of yet, rights-based refuge has not found a way to incorporate fundamental mechanisms for accountability and access to justice. Without these crucial tools for protecting the human rights of refugees, the movement towards rights-based refuge remains incomplete.

The sexual violence and sexual exploitation that was documented in refugee camps in Guinea in 2002 (2) provides an illustrative case study of the problems faced by refugee women in many parts of the world. During this period, Guinea's refugees were cared for by a trio of aid providers--the host government, UNHCR, and various NGOs--that is representative of the actors in camp governance in many other refugee situations around the world. In Guinea, much like in other refugee settings, this trio of aid providers delivers a broad range of state-like functions from security to health care. However, the trio of aid providers in Guinea in 2002 struggled to offer strong mechanisms for accountability and access to justice.

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