Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Obiora C. Okafor
In this dissertation, I investigate the question how, and to what extent, can the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) be held accountable, under international law, for its contribution to the harms to the environment and lives of refugees resulting from refugee encampment in refugee camps that it helps create, fund, and manage? Using data from primary and secondary sources and borrowing from certain theoretical paradigms and schools of thought, I theorise about the policy-context; the decision-making processes that produce refugee encampment; the locus of accountability for the injurious consequences of refugee encampment in refugee-hosting states in the global south; the international rules and principles for protecting refugees and the environment; the rules and principles constituting the regime of accountability under international law; and the strengths and limitations of the regime. I identify observable implications that flow from each theoretical proposition I posit and buttress these with evidence from both primary and secondary sources. I demonstrate that the UNHCR is the architect of refugee encampment in many refugee-hosting states in the global south and show how it appropriates the framework governance of these states on refugee policy and practice. I argue that accountability for the consequences of refugee camps on the environment, refugees, and host communities must, therefore, follow the locus of power and be laid upon the author of the framework decisions that produce refugee encampment. My central thesis is that because the UNHCR, albeit a subsidiary organ of the United Nations (UN), is an independent actor on the international plane, with considerable influence, it should be held accountable for its authorship of the framework decisions which produce refugee encampment, resulting in harm to the environment and damage to the lives of refugees living under deplorable conditions of encampment; some for over twenty-five years. I conclude that, in theory at least, the UNHCR can be held accountable, under international law, using two possible legal routes: (a) internationally wrongful acts, and (b) liability for injurious consequences of activities that international law does not prohibit. In practice, however, both legal routes have have gaps or limitations.
Lomo, Zachary, "Refugee Camps: In Search of the Locus of the Accountability of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Under International Law" (2021). PhD Dissertations. 66.