Main Debates

  • Is the 1951 Geneva Convention adequate in the context of forced displacement?
  • How can the protection needs of victims of generalised violence and armed conflict be met?
  • Should there be a ‘sliding scale’ or other connection between the various kinds of protection needs and the ensuing entitlements?
  • Is complementary protection a humanitarian issue under state discretion or a matter of state duty?

Main Points

  • Limitations of 1951 Geneva Convention give rise to the need for complementary forms of protection
  • Role of international human rights treaties in establishing protection standards to be accorded to persons who fall outside of the 1951 Geneva Convention
  • Distinction between complementary protection and stay for compassionate or practical reasons.

Soft Law

  1. UNHCR EXCOM, ’General Conclusion on international protection’, No. 87 (L), 1999.
  2. UNHCR EXCOM, ’General Conclusion on international protection’, No. 89 (LI), 2000.
  3. UNHCR EXCOM, ‘Conclusion on the provision on international protection including through complementary forms of protection’, Conclusion No. 103 ((LVI), 2005.

UNHCR Documents

  1. UNHCR, ‘Providing International Protection Including Through Complementary Forms of Protection’, 2 June 2005.
  2. UNHCR, ‘The International Protection of Refugees: Complementary Forms of Protection’, April 2001.
  3. UNHCR, ’Coping with contemporary conflicts: 'Conflict refugees' and the 1951 Convention protection regime’, Opening lecture, 23 April 2013.
  4. UNHCR, ’Summary Conclusions on the interpretation of the extended refugee definition in the 1984 Cartagena Declaration’, Roundtable 15 and 16 October 2013, Montevideo, Uruguay, 7 July 2014.
  5. UNHCR, ’Summary conclusions on international protection of persons fleeing armed conflict and other situations of violence’, Roundtable 13 and 14 September 2012, Cape Town, South Africa, 20 December 2012.



  1. R. Mandal, Protection Mechanisms Outside of the 1951 Convention (‘Complementary Protection’), UNHCR Legal and Protection Policy Research Series, (Geneva: UNHCR, 2005).
  2. R. Plender and N. Mole, ‘Beyond the Geneva Convention: Constructing a De Facto Right of Asylum from International Human Rights Instruments’, in F. Nicholson and P. Twomey (eds), Refugee Rights and Realities. Evolving International Concepts and Regimes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 81–105.
  3. V. Holzer, The 1951 Refugee Convention and the Protection of People Fleeing Armed Conflict and Other Situations of Violence, September 2012, PPLA/2012/05, [Part of the Legal and Protection Policy Research Series for the Division of International Protection].
  4. V. Oosterveld, Women and Girls Fleeing Conflict: Gender and the Interpretation and Application of the 1951 Refugee Convention, September 2012, PPLA 2012/06 [Part of the Legal and Protection Policy Research Series for the Division of International Protection].


  1. J. McAdam, ‘The Refugee Convention as a Rights Blueprint for Persons in Need of International Protection’, in J. McAdam (ed.), Forced Migration, Human Rights and Security (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2008), pp. 263–282.
  2. J. McAdam, Complementary Protection in International Refugee Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  3. J. Vedsted-Hansen, ‘Assessment of the Proposal for an EC Directive on the Notion of Refugee and Subsidiary Protection from the Perspective of International Law’, in D.Bouteillet-Paquet (ed.), Subsidiary Protection of Refugees in the European Union: Complementing the Geneva Convention? (Brussels: Bruylant, 2002), pp. 57–78.

 II.3.2	Complementary (Subsidiary) ProtectionII.3.2 Complementary (Subsidiary) Protection