James C Hathaway2


Efforts to promote the contemporary vitality of the Convention refugee definition have usually focussed on refining our understanding of the circumstances in which an individual may be said to be at risk of “being persecuted,” or on giving contemporary relevance to the content of the five grounds upon which risk must be based—race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Comparatively little thought has been given to how best to conceive the causal linkage or nexus between the Convention ground and the risk of being persecuted. In what circumstances may the risk be said to be “for reasons of” one of the five Convention grounds?

The jurisprudence of many leading asylum states is simply silent on this issue, while decisions rendered in other states assume that causation in refugee law can be defined by uncritical analogy to standards in other branches of the law. Only rarely have senior courts sought carefully to conceive an understanding of causation of specific relevance to refugee law, including the critical questions of a standard of causation and the types of evidence which should inform the causation inquiry.

With a view to promoting a shared understanding of the basic requirements for the recognition of Convention refugee status, we have engaged in sustained collaborative study and reflection on the norms and state practice relevant to the causation inquiry. This research was debated and refined at the Second Colloquium on Challenges in International Refugee Law, convened in March 2001 by the University of Michigan’s Program in Refugee and Asylum Law. These Guidelines are the product of that endeavour, and reflect the consensus of Colloquium participants on how the causal nexus to a Convention ground should be understood in international refugee law.

General Considerations
These Guidelines reflect the consensus of all the participants at the Second Colloquium on Challenges in International Refugee Law, held at Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, on March 23–25, 2001.
James C. Hathaway
Colloquium Convenor
University of Michigan
Rodger P.G. Haines, Q.C.
Colloquium Chair
University of Auckland
Michael Kagan 
Colloquium Rapporteur 
Cairo Asylum and 
Refugee Aid Project 
T. Alexander Aleinikoff 
Georgetown University
Catherine Dauvergne 
University of Sydney 
Suzanne J. Egan 
University College Dublin 
Walter Kälin 
University of Bern 
Jens Vedsted-Hansen 
Aarhus University 
Vanessa Bedford 
Michigan Law School 
Stephanie Browning 
Michigan Law School 
Michelle Foster 
Michigan Law School 
Nicole Green 
Michigan Law School 
William Johnson 
Michigan Law School 
Noah Leavitt 
Michigan Law School 
Elizabeth Marsh 
Michigan Law School 
Barbara Miltner 
Michigan Law School 
Kate Semple-Barta 
Michigan Law School 
The Colloquium deliberations benefited from the counsel of
Mr. Volker Türk
Chief, Standards and Legal Advice Section
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees


1. The Michigan Guidelines on Nexus to a Convention Ground were originally published in 23 Mich. J. Int'l L._____ (2001).

2. Professor of Law and Director, Program in Refugee and Asylum Law, University of Michigan Law School