UNHCR Statement on a draft Revised General Comment No. 1
on the implementation of article 3 of the Convention against Torture
in the context of article 22
Members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
UNHCR is grateful for this invitation from the Committee to participate in this General
Discussion, and welcomes the opportunity to provide observations on the Draft
Revised General Comment, both in writing and during this intervention.
The principle of non-refoulement is the cornerstone of international refugee protection,
and lies at the heart of UNHCR’s work. The Agency is mandated to ensure the
consistent and coherent interpretation and application of international refugee law.
This revision of General Comment No.1 is an essential opportunity to ensure that
international human rights and refugee law are complementary and mutually
reinforcing in upholding protection from refoulement. In both bodies of law, this
principle stems from a single, shared value: states must not exercise their sovereign
power to regulate the entry, stay and removal of foreigners by forcing them, directly or
indirectly, to go to a country where they face threats to their lives or freedoms.
From among the other points we have brought to the attention of the Committee
through our written observations on the Draft Revised General Comment, UNHCR
would like to highlight three aspects of particular importance during this intervention:
the extraterritorial application of the principle of non-refoulement, the use of diplomatic
assurances and the importance of the non-refoulement when transferring asylumseekers from one country to another for the purpose of processing their claims.
Firstly, addressing the issue of extraterritoriality: protection from refoulement must
be ensured wherever the state in question exercises jurisdiction, whether de jure or
de facto. This extraterritorial application of the non-refoulement principle is crucial in a
number of contexts, particularly when states act outside their territory, be it on the high
seas in the context of maritime search-and-rescue operations or through other forms
of interception, or when acting in the territory, including territorial waters, of other
states. It is equally important at the state’s border, where rejection at the frontier and
non-admission to the territory can breach the principle of non-refoulement. In this
regard, UNHCR would like to note that large-scale arrivals at borders are no
justification for the closure of borders. Sudden or large-scale arrivals do not justify any
departure from the principle of non-refoulement; and states must have systems in
place for ensuring its scrupulous observation.