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Written Submission for the High-Level Officials Meeting: On the ‘meaningful participation’ of refugees

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Calls for ‘Nothing about us, without us!’ have grown in recent years led by refugees and other persons in need of international protection and supported by diverse stakeholders: governmental and non-governmental. The achievement of more meaningful participation of refugees in decision-making, coordination structures, and directly in service delivery is now a jointly-shared commitment, and there is a need to develop measures that will translate that commitment into action. This submission seeks to make specific recommendations in this regard, and contribute to the ongoing conversation about how we can achieve the objective of ensuring more meaningful participation in practice.

Developing law, practice, and rhetoric on meaningful participation

The obligation to facilitate more meaningful participation among affected persons, as well as the practical advantages and benefits of more meaningful participation in achieving results, are now well recognized, but there remains room for development and legal reform.

Enabling meaningful participation requires the fulfillment of a series of interconnected rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and other international and domestic human rights. Most human rights provisions are owed to “…all individuals within [a] territory and subject to its jurisdiction… without distinction of any kind.” Other international legal instruments also recognize the value and importance of meaningful participation, including: the New York Declaration and the Global Compact on Refugees.

In particular, the Global Compact on Refugees in paragraph 34, recognizes that,

“Responses are most effective when they actively and meaningfully engage those they are intended to protect and assist. Relevant actors will, wherever possible, continue to develop and support consultative processes that enable refugees and host community members to assist in designing appropriate, accessible and inclusive responses. States and relevant stakeholders will explore how best to include refugees and members of host communities, particularly women, youth, and persons with disabilities, in key forums and processes, as well as diaspora, where relevant. Mechanisms to receive complaints, and investigate and prevent fraud, abuse and corruption help to ensure accountability.”

A number of States and other actors have made pledges to promote meaningful participation at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum.

Participation is also a core component of policies and various guidelines and frameworks that inform humanitarian and protection work. These include, for example, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Commitments on Accountability to Affected Populations in 2011 and revised in 2017, and some political commitments and soft law sources such as: The Grand Bargain commitment to participation. Furthermore, a variety of quality and accountability initiatives that have emerged following a series of joint evaluations that took place in the 1990s in response to the Rwanda genocide, have defined and recognized ‘participation’ among other core humanitarian standards.