The Normative Impact of the Global Compact on Refugees

iCourts Working Paper Series No. 151, 2019

Forthcoming in International Journal on Refugee Law, Special Issue on the Global Compacts

11 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2019

Date Written: January 15, 2019


When Ban Ki-Moon launched the idea of a Global Compact for Refugees in April 2016 it was with an ambition to secure new commitments in regard to the long-standing gap in international refugee law regarding international cooperation. To do so, he proposed that that the global compact should develop a principle of responsibility-sharing ‘through the application of standards that reflect the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol thereto, regional refugee instruments and international human rights and humanitarian law.’ In the ensuing drafting process, several commentators have expressed similar hopes for the compact to address a range of normative issues, providing either substantively new commitments or pushing interpretation of existing obligations as a matter of international refugee and human rights law. Others again, have expressed the hope that, even if the Global Compact for Refugees is itself non-binding, this instrument will eventually pave the way for subsequent international legal developments, such as a new protocol to the 1951 Convention.

To assess any such possibilities it is, however, necessary first to understand what kind of animal the Global Compact for Refugees is in the zoo of international law and diplomacy. The present contribution sets out a short analysis of the term ‘compact’ as a political-legal instrument and on this basis asks how the Global Compact on Refugees relates to existing international refugee law, and what, if any, normative implications are likely to follow from this new instrument. It does so by considering the compact as a particular form of soft law instrument and examine the different roles such an instrument can play from an international law perspective.

Keywords: international refugee law, international human rights, humanitarian law, international law, diplomacy, soft law

Suggested Citation

Gammeltoft-Hansen, Thomas, The Normative Impact of the Global Compact on Refugees (January 15, 2019). Forthcoming in International Journal on Refugee Law, Special Issue on the Global Compacts. Available at SSRN:

Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen (Contact Author)

Danish Institute for Human Rights ( email )

Wilders Plads 8K
Copenhagen K, 1403

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