Introduction to the Symposium on ‘the UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?’

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Editor’s note: EJIL:Talk! is happy to announce that starting today, the blog will host a symposium on The UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?. In their contribution to this series, five members of the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law will engage with overarching and cross-cutting topics in the context of the recently adopted Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and Global Compact on Refugees.

We thank the authors for their contributions, and for the interesting discussions this symposium is sure to generate!

In this blog symposium, the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law focuses on the recently adopted two United Nations (UN) instruments aiming at reinforcing the (legal) structures of global governance on migration and asylum: the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) as well as the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). Human migration has been a constant in the history of the world and a defining reality of our time. International migration has been coined as a global “megatrend” by the International Organization for Migration. In this context came the Global Compacts, which are the outcomes of a two-year negotiation process in different formats and settings. After several rounds of inclusive preparatory talks within the UN in New York, the Marrakech Intergovernmental Conference, held on 10-11 December 2018, formally adopted the Global Compact on Migration, which was later endorsed by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 19 December 2018 (with 152 States voting for it). The Global Compact on Refugees has been prepared in a less transparent way by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), then was presented to the UN General Assembly in September 2018, and was subsequently also endorsed by the UNGA in December last year (181 countries voted in favour of it).

Piecing together as well as clarifying and consolidating rules and principles in quite heterogeneous fields of international law has recently become a popular standard-setting approach under the UN aegis. “Defragging international law”, to use the metaphor of ‘defrag’ computer programs consolidating fragmented files on a hard drive (see Margaret Yong’s post on this blog), has also been sought for by the Global Pact on the Environment,  similar to the GCM and the GCR. The Compacts’ symbolic power as universal instruments has raised expectations that they may embody potential responses to the fragmentation of the international legal regime governing international movements of people, including forced mobility.

Notwithstanding the non-legally binding (“soft law”) nature of the Compacts, both may impact existing rules of international law and affect the legal position of migrants and refugees under international law. Anne Peters has finely summarised the functions and possible legal effects of such soft law instruments in an earlier blog post on the GCM. Also, the two Global Compacts can be seen as a laboratory for the development of new models of multilateral cooperation in the governance of migration and refugee movements.

Nonetheless, the academic debate on the Compacts’ scope and content, legal effects, pitfalls and innovations is still in its infancy (for some early assessments, see a blog series analysing each of the GCM’s objectives; and the aforementioned blog entry on the GCM’s legal nature here at EIIL:Talk!). This blog symposium intends to galvanize the academic debate on the universal and regional impact of the Global Compacts, including their legal transformative power and the effectiveness of the multiple tools for their implementation, follow-up and review (see paras. 40-54 in the GCM and paras. 101-107 in the GCR).

Intellectually stimulating issues include, but are not limited to, exploring whether and how the progression towards a new era of global governance of (mass) migration and refugee flows is capable of enhancing the universality of the fundamental rights agenda or diluting consolidated principles and basic rules of international migration and refugee law, alongside questions pertaining to international responsibility of various actors involved in dealings with migrants and refugees.

Five members of the Interest Group took on overarching and cross-cutting topics in the context of the two Compacts in their contributions to the blog symposium, each in their own way. Respective blog posts are presented as an evolving debate: each participating Interest Group member critically engages with the outcomes of the contributions preceding his or her respective input to the symposium. Maria Gavouneli kicks off the blog symposium by asking the question: “Legislating with Compacts?” and discusses their legal nature as well as this form as an emerging technique for international law-making. In the next post, Andrea Spagnolo looks at the GCM’s interactions with international human rights law, focusing on selected key issues. It is followed by a blog post co-written by Marion Panizzon and Daniela Vitiello, which dwells upon governance issues under the Global Compact on Migration, with the key question being whether the GCM is just another soft law cooperation framework; or it offers a novel legal regime governing international migration. Ülkü Sezgi Sözen concludes the blog symposium by examining whether or not a new blueprint has been found for the ‘refugee’ definition in the Global Compact on Refugees.

The conveners of the blog symposium wish you all happy reading!

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