Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why The Pals. Have No "Right of Return of Refugees"

The position that denies the right of return was also the position of international law in the era after World War II. This was an era when forced population transfers were perceived as the appropriate way to reduce ethnic frictions and build national identities. During the course of the 1990s it seemed as though a change had occurred in the position of international law in light of the ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia. The desire to prevent acts of slaughter and expulsion led to widespread recognition of the obligation to return the refugees to their homes. In the course of this, the distinction between the Bosnian refugees and the Palestinian refugees was blurred.This was the period during which the Palestinians adopted Resolution 194, and read into it the ostensible recognition of the right of return.

Since then, more than 10 years have gone by during which there has been a general sobering up from the solution of return. Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan's 2003 plan to settle the conflict in Cyprus recognizes that the Cypriot refugees do not have the right to return to their homes. Annan draws a distinction between the Bosnian and Cypriot refugees because of the circumstances of life that had changed during the 30 years that had elapsed since the conflict erupted there, and the legitimate needs of those who had settled into the refugees' homes.

It is hard to exaggerate the significance of the precedent in the UN position that recognizes the right of governments to negotiate on behalf of refugees. In the waning days of 2008 there are those who have doubts even as to the wisdom of the effort to return the Bosnian refugees to their homes, as their return has led to a crisis-prone situation that is liable to degenerate into renewed violence at any moment.

More here, by Eyal Benvenisti, professor at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law

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