Political Opinion in the Refugee Context

9th Apr 2011 Comments Off on Political Opinion in the Refugee Context

The five grounds for claiming Convention refugee status on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution are race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group and political opinion.

Political opinion is a broad concept that is not merely limited to belonging to a political party.  Canada (Attorney General) v Ward (1993)  is the leading Supreme Court of Canada case on the scope of political opinion. According to that decision, political opinion includes “any opinion on any matter in which the machinery of state, government, and policy may be engaged.”   The Court stated:

Political opinion as a basis for a well-founded fear of persecution has been defined quite simply as persecution of persons on the ground “that they are alleged or known to hold opinions contrary to or critical of the policies of the government or ruling party”; see … [Atle Grahl-Madsen, The Status of Refugees in International Law (1966)] at p. 220. The persecution stems from the desire to put down any dissent viewed as a threat to the persecutors. Grahl-Madsen’s definition assumes that the persecutor from whom the claimant is fleeing is always the government or ruling party, or at least some party having parallel interests to those of the government. As noted earlier, however, international refugee protection extends to situations where the state is not an accomplice to the persecution, but is unable to protect the claimant. In such cases, it is possible that a claimant may be seen as a threat by a group unrelated, and perhaps even opposed, to the government because of his or her political viewpoint, perceived or real. The more general interpretation of political opinion suggested by Goodwin-Gill, [Guy S. The Refugee in International Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983] at p. 31, i.e.,

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