Blog post by Natasha Yacoub, a refugee law practitioner and scholar. Natasha is a PhD scholar at UNSW and teaches on the RLI’s MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies.


The international refugee law criteria for cessation of refugee status when the circumstances in a refugee’s country of origin have fundamentally changed are interpreted through a male prism. Both in substance and process, Article 1C(5) and (6) of the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (together ‘1951 Refugee Convention’) fail to adequately acknowledge women’s experiences. This is not a unique phenomenon in the interpretation of international refugee law. As Dauvergne explains, “the past three decades of feminist work in refugee law advocacy stand as a cautionary tale” because “what began with a huge burst of energy and creativity in the final decade of the twentieth century has stalled spectacularly”.[1]  A dynamic interpretation of the law to include women’s rights offers the potential to better protect women in the law and process to cease refugee status.  


This blog piece first sets out the criteria for cessation under Articles 1C(5) and (6) of the 1951 Refugee Convention, explaining how they ignore the experiences of women. The second part offers a dynamic interpretation of these criteria to include international human rights law.[2] It acknowledges that women’s experiences cannot be essentialised and that experiences of harm are unique to the individual. Violations of women’s rights do not take place only due to gender and cannot be de-linked from sexuality, race and disability and other factors.  


The cessation of refugee status for ‘ceased circumstances’


The ‘ceased circumstances’ cessation clauses are contained in Articles 1C(5) and (6) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.[3] The clauses in Article 1C(5) and (6) of the 1951 Refugee Convention provide that a person’s status as a refugee may cease where “the circumstances in connection with which [s]he was recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist”. The clauses qualify that they shall not apply to a refugee who is able to “invoke compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution for refusing to return” to his or her country of origin. While there is no explicit reference to gender in the text, this does not preclude its inclusion in the interpretation of the clauses.  


Both texts and state practice to interpret the ceased circumstances clauses were described by Fitzpatrick as ‘underdeveloped’[4] at the end of the 1990s, and this remains the same two decades later.[5] This ongoing confusion surrounding the interpretation of the clauses only compounds the obfuscation or elimination of women’s rights. A detailed analysis of gender is largely absent from the interpretation the law of cessation in academic commentary, state practice, caselaw, UNHCR guidance, and key conclusions of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme on cessation.  


There are three discernible criteria applied to evidence cessation under Article 1C(5) and (6) of the Refugee Convention. The first criterion is a change in the country of origin that is fundamental, stable and durable. This is often interpreted to mean a profound political change, such as a democratic transition following years of military dictatorship or a peace agreement to end a war. It is often the case that profound political change will not represent a change in women’s rights, for example where peace processes fail to include gender.  


The second criterion is a removal of the threat of persecution that caused a refugee to flee. While there has been an improvement in recent years to include gender persecution in the refugee definition, it is not standard practice. Where women’s experiences are not always included in granting refugee status, they are unlikely to be included in the analysis of the cessation of this status.  


The third criterion applied in several jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, is the availability of effective protection in the country of origin. This entails an analysis international human rights law to interpret the provisions for ceased circumstances. If an individual threat causing a refugee to flee is removed but fundamental women’s rights guarantees are ignored, women risk being returned to situations where they will continue to face persecution.  


A dynamic interpretation of cessation to include women’s rights


A dynamic approach to include international human rights law, as Querton demonstrates, can better protect women’s rights in international refugee law. This section explains how this approach can be applied to the ‘ceased circumstances’ cessation clauses. 


The first criterion requires an assessment of change in the country of origin that is fundamental, durable and effective. This change can be assessed through a gender prism, by drawing on Security Council resolutions under the agenda item of ‘women, peace and security’. These provide a framework to assess international human rights of women in countries emerging from conflict and military rule. Acknowledging important feminist critique of these resolutions, they nonetheless represent a useful tool for the inclusion of women’s experiences and their voices in matters of peace and security where they are otherwise absent.  


Assessing the second criterion through a gender prism requires an understanding of how different forms of discrimination underpin individual acts of persecution that cause women to flee. To incorporate a woman’s experience in assessing the individual component of cessation, the analytical framework for assessing gender-based claims for refugee status can be used. This requires the inclusion of gender-based violence as persecution, such as harmful traditional practices. It also requires the inclusion of gender in the reasons for persecution in Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention, “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. Applying this gender lens to the second criterion, stereotypes of women as victims in refugee status determination processes should be avoided. For example, women who take action to defend themselves against gendered harm such as forced and early marriage and rape could be viewed as expressing political opinions rather than a social group of women victims of domestic violence. Honkala explains that women’s resistance to gendered oppression should be seen as a valid expression of their political opinion and agency. The criteria for cessation can account for this.  


The third criterion, assessing whether effective protection for women is available, can be interpreted with reference to reports on women’s human rights undertaken by UN human rights bodies. This could include a systematic analysis of reports on women’s rights under human rights special procedures of the United Nations as well as regional special procedures measures e.g. African special mechanisms. It could routinely include key findings on women of specialised UN human rights treaty bodies, such as the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Since 187 of 194 UN member states have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the four-year periodic reports to the Secretary-General provide a useful measure together with regional human rights reports, eg to periodic reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Although these provide objective and verified information for assessing effective protection for women in the context of cessation, they may not capture experiences of refugee women that are of a particularly sensitive nature. Refugee women should have the opportunity to express their views about ongoing harm, with due process guarantees, when the cessation criteria are applied.[6]  




Where cessation for ‘ceased circumstances’ pursuant to Articles 1C(5) and (6) of the 1951 Refugee Convention are applied, the experiences of women are an integral part of the assessment. While the refugee definition has been interpreted to include gender in refugee law, albeit not consistently, the same cannot be said for cessation. The law of cessation can evolve, and a dynamic interpretation to include women’s rights provides a means to do so. If asylum states (and the UNHCR in assisting them) fail to take account of women’s experiences in determining cessation for ‘ceased circumstances’, they risk becoming one with the systems of oppression and gender discrimination that drive individuals into refuge and then forces them to return.    



[1] Catherine Dauvergne, “Women in Jurisprudence” in: Catheryn Costello, Michelle Foster, Jane McAdam (eds) The Oxford Handbook of International Refugee Law (OUP, Oxford, 2021).

[2] For a sound explanation of the ‘Interpretative relevance of human rights law’ in the context of cessation, see Maria O’Sullivan, ‘Refugee Law and the Durability of Protection’ (Routledge, 2019), 13-16.

[3] There are cessation clauses for ‘ceased circumstances’ in paragraph 6(A)(ii)(e) and (f) of the UNHCR Statute and Article I.4(e) of the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, the analysis of which is beyond the scope of this blog.

[4] Joan Fitzpatrick, “The End of Protection- Legal Standards for Cessation of Refugee Status and Withdrawal of Temporary Protection” (1999) 13(3) Georgetown Immigration Law Journal 343 at 345.

[5] Georgia Cole, “Cessation” in Cathryn Costello, Michelle Foster, Jane McAdam (eds) The Oxford Handbook of International Refugee Law (OUP, Oxford, 2021).

[6] Goodwin-Gill, McAdam and Dunlop explain that “given the potential impact of cessation on individuals and families, the person concerned should be given an opportunity to show why, either generally or in his or her particular situation, cessation should not apply”. Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, Jane McAdam, Emma Dunlop, “Loss and Denial of Refugee Status and Its Benefits” in: Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, Jane McAdam (4th ed) The Refugee in International Law (OUP, 2021), p173.  



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