The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law

By Lex Takkenberg | Go to book overview

VII Human Rights Law

1. Introductory Remarks

In the previous four chapters, the position of Palestinian refugees has been examined in relation to a number of different areas of international law. Attribution of rights and obligations under these areas of international law is based on the fact that the subjects of this study possess certain 'qualities' that are legally relevant. As 'refugees' they are the subjects of international refugee law; those Palestinian refugees who are also 'stateless persons' are the subjects of the law relating to stateless persons and, finally, those subjected to situations of armed conflict are 'protected persons' for the purpose of humanitarian law. In this chapter, the last of Part Two of this study, the focus will be on the position of Palestinian refugees as 'individuals' and as members of the 'Palestinian people'. The relevant concepts of international law are those of human rights and self-determination.

A 1974 United Nations General Assembly resolution on the rights of the Palestinian People provides that the 'inalienable rights of the Palestinians' and 'the Palestinian people' include: 'the right to selfdetermination without external interference'; 'the right to national independence and sovereignty'; and 'the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted.'1 The right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes had been affirmed by the General Assembly as early as 1948.2 Both legal concepts, that of the right to return (and compensation) and that of the right to self-determination (including the right to national independence and sovereignty), have featured prominently - although not always with sufficient lucidity - in the legal literature concerning the question of Palestine and have repeatedly, especially during the 1970s and 1980s, dominated the debate on the issue within the United Nations General Assembly. In the following two sections an attempt will be made to summarize the contemporary legal content of both rights as well as their applicability to the Palestinian refugee problem. One other, more individually oriented, human rights issue relevant to large numbers of Palestinian refugees will be examined in section 4. This concerns the issue of

____________________
1
UNGA res. 3236 (XXIX), 22 Nov. 1974.
2
UNGA res. 194 (III), 11 Dec. 1948. For the text, see Annex 1.

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