AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies

Accountability in the global space: plurality, complexity and UNHCR

by Niamh Kinchin

Institution: University of New South Wales
Department: Law
Year: 2014
Keywords: UNHCR; Accountability; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Global Governance; Global Administrative Law; Global Space; Plurality; Refugee Status Determination
Record ID: 1053812
Full text PDF: http://handle.unsw.edu.au/1959.4/53811


Beyond the boundaries of sovereignty and international law exists a space where global administration transcends traditional treaty-based diplomacy and multilateral cooperation. Diverse actors, collectively known as global decision-making bodies, carry out the decision-making and regulation in this ‘global space’. Largely unshackled from international diplomacy, these bodies possess the ability to engage in standard setting and decision-making in a dynamic, flexible way. Yet global decision-making bodies make decisions that affect the rights and obligations of States, intergovernmental bodies and private actors without the accountability oversight inherent in comparable domestic decision-making. In this thesis the case for a plural approach to accountability in the global space is presented. A plural approach to accountability means identifying what a global decision-making body is accountable for by reference to its unique relationships rather than by reference to external perceptions of what accountability requires. A global decision-making body’s relationships are created by elements, such as its structure, functions and the application of relevant principles and legal rules, which are unique to that body. These unique elements determine the scope of its relationships, or the body’s accountability obligations. The theoretical framework of this thesis is embodied by the Plural Accountability Model (PAM). PAM is an original conceptual model that has been created to conceptualise accountability in global administration in way that responds to the plurality of its context and the diversity of its actors. PAM achieves its purpose by identifying the unique relationships of a global decision-making body, revealing the scope of those relationships (i.e. accountability obligations) and by recognising the obstacles to ‘achieving accountability’, which include the intersection and conflict of accountability obligations. In order to contextualise this thesis’ theoretical framework, PAM has been applied to a case study. An examination of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is the primary agency concerned with refugees and international protection, provides insight into a global decision-making body with complex relationships, often conflicting accountability obligations and, as it is argued, a need for procedural standards that can respond effectively to the accountability challenges inherent in its administrative decision-making, or refugee status determination.