Abstract

Many of the policy dilemmas that have confronted UNHCR and other international humanitarian institutions are the consequence of having to choose among conflicting norms. These include the traditional legal mandates of UNHCR to provide protection and assistance to refugees outside their country of nationality, and to support the principle of non-refoulement , and other international norms including the protection of internally displaced persons, the right to remain in one's own country, the right to return, the rights of women, the rights of minorities, human rights more broadly, and norms regarding genocide and other crimes against humanity. Conflicts within and among humanitarian institutions have arisen between advocates of instrumental humanitarianism and those who take a more restrictive legal and monistic view. The paper provides examples of such conflicts and suggests strategies for dealing with refugee and related complex humanitarian emergencies when policy makers are faced with having to choose among competing international norms.

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