Do Human Rights Treaties Help Asylum-Seekers?: Lessons from the United Kingdom

56 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2015 Last revised: 9 Jan 2016

See all articles by Stephen Meili

Stephen Meili

University of Minnesota Law School; University of Oxford - Border Criminologies

Date Written: October 1, 2015


This article analyzes the circumstances under which international human rights treaties have helped or hurt asylum-seekers in the United Kingdom since 1991. Combining a database of nearly 2,000 asylum decisions and 51 interviews with U.K. refugee lawyers, it identifies several factors which help determine the impact of human rights treaties in individual cases. It focuses on the U.K. because that country has ratified or otherwise adopted numerous human rights treaties over the past three decades, and U.K. refugee lawyers regularly invoke those treaties in representing their clients.

This article fills a gap in the treaty effectiveness literature by addressing the extent to which domestic courts rely on or otherwise reference human rights treaties in asylum litigation. It posits that the impact of such treaties in any given case depends on several factors, including the extent to which the treaty has been incorporated into domestic law and the gender of the applicant. This article also demonstrates that while such treaties help asylum-seekers in some cases, in others they may do more harm than good.

Keywords: human rights, international law, immigration law

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Meili, Stephen, Do Human Rights Treaties Help Asylum-Seekers?: Lessons from the United Kingdom (October 1, 2015). Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-41, Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Meili (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

Mondale Hall
229-19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55104
United States

University of Oxford - Border Criminologies ( email )

Manor Road Building
Manor Rd
Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

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