Fact Sheet: Palestinian Refugees & The Right of Return Under International Law

September 05, 2012 chris
Fact Sheet: Palestinian Refugees & The Right of Return Under International Law
  • Palestinian refugees are Palestinians who were expelled from their homes and homeland by Israel during and after the state’s establishment in 1948.

  • Under international law, all refugees have a right to return to areas from which they have fled or were forced, to receive compensation for damages, and to either regain their properties or receive compensation and support for voluntary resettlement. This right derives from a number of sources, including customary international law, international humanitarian law governing rights of civilians during war, and human rights law. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 13(2) that "[e]veryone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his own country."
  • In December 1948, following Israel's establishment based on the ethnic cleansing of approximately 750,000 Palestinians, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which states:

"refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible."

  • The right of return for Palestinian refugees has been confirmed repeatedly by the UN General Assembly, including through Resolution 3236, which "Reaffirms also the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return."
  • The Palestinian right of return has also been recognized by human rights organizations like Amnesty International, which issued a policy statement on the subject in 2001. It concluded:

“Amnesty International calls for Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel, the West Bank or Gaza Strip, along with those of their descendants who have maintained genuine links with the area, to be able to exercise their right to return.”

  • According to a statement issued by Human Rights Watch in 2000:

    “HRW urges Israel to recognize the right to return for those Palestinians, and their descendants, who fled from territory that is now within the State of Israel, and who have maintained appropriate links with that territory. This is a right that persists even when sovereignty over the territory is contested or has changed hands.”
  • The right of refugees to return to homes and lands they were expelled from is an individual right and cannot be unilaterally abrogated by third parties.

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