Is the Refugee Convention a human rights treaty? Revisiting the High Court’s international law jurisprudence

Date & time

12.30–1.30pm Thursday 6 September 2018


Attorney-General's Department

3 National Circuit, Barton


Associate Professor Matthew Zagor, ANU College of Law


For interstate visitors, we offer suggestions for accommodation near ANU.


Nicole Harman

Presented by the Centre for International & Public Law

CIPL International Law Lunchtime Seminar
Matthew Zagor

Join a group of 20-25 CIPL members at a monthly brown bag (BYO) lunch to hear short presentations by specialists on recent developments in international law, followed by general discussion.

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that the 1951 Refugee Convention merits a place in the pantheon of international human rights treaties. This conventional wisdom would seem to be supported by the globally significant decisions of the High Court of Australia in the Malaysian Declaration (2011) and Offshore Processing (2010) cases. A closer look at the Court’s earlier jurisprudence, however, indicates that these decisions were based on what the judges took to be a legislative drafting misstep in implementing the Convention. With that purported error now corrected by the legislature, as Gageler J has argued in CPCF (2015), we have reverted to the position set out by Justice Gummow in Ibrahim (2000) and adopted by six judges in NAGV (2005). This holds that the Convention is contractual in its nature and not to be read as a human rights instrument, let alone construed as recognising the individual as a rights-bearing subject. 

This talk will speak to a draft paper that explores the persuasiveness and ramifications of the court’s reasoning, and what this might say more generally about dominant judicial understandings of treaty law, as well as the sophistication of the Australian judicial engagement with important international legal debates. 




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