The Right of Return: A Typology of Claims
18 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012 Last revised: 4 Sep 2012
Date Written: September 4, 2012
The right of return is a critical norm in the international human rights and refugee regimes, and the subject of intense political debate, particularly in the context of the beleaguered Middle East peace process. Although most scholarly and legal discussions of the right of return have focused on the complex case of the Palestinian refugees, the concept of the right of return has also figured centrally in many other displacement situations and repatriation processes, from Georgia and Burundi to Iraq and Bosnia. In recent years, a growing number of advocates have argued that properly interpreted, the right of return entails not only the right of the exiled to re-enter their countries of origin, but more specifically the right to return to and reoccupy their original homes and lands. However, an analysis of the diverse contexts in which the right of return has been evoked demonstrates a much broader range of possible interpretations of the meaning, underpinnings and implications of this claim. This paper presents a preliminary typology of interpretations of the right of return, drawing on examples from different repatriation processes. It argues that in light of the diverse interpretations of this concept advanced by refugee communities, as well as by states and international organizations, the right of return should not be reduced to a claim to regain particular pieces of land, but should be understood more broadly, including as a claim for political membership.
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