Local agents of international justice? On the role of subnational units in refugee protection

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Refugee protection depends, minimally, on the identification of agents capable of discharging international obligations in this area of international law. Commonly discussed “agents of justice” include states, IOs, and NGOs. This article focuses on a different set of actors: subnational units (cities, states, and provinces in federal States) and the legal mechanisms they may use to discharge international obligations in the area of refugee protection. I advance three distinct theoretical models for understanding subnational units’ responsibilities vis-à-vis international law: (1) derived delegated responsibilities; (2) derived back-up responsibilities; and (3) assumed responsibilities. I conclude by sketching some ways in which subnational units could play an even more salient role in the promotion of international law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-411
Number of pages23
JournalHuman Rights Review
Issue number3
Early online date30 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Cities
  • Federal state
  • Human rights
  • Immigration
  • International law
  • Refugee
  • Responsibility
  • Sanctuary
  • Subnational units


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