Border justice: Migration and accountability for human rights violations

Cathryn Costello, Itamar Mann

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This introductory Article sets out the premise of the Special Issue, the entrenched and pervasive nature of human rights violations in the context of migration control and the apparent lack of accountability for such violations. It sets out features of contemporary migration control practices and their legal governance that contribute to this phenomenon, namely the exceptional treatment of migration in international law; the limited scope of international refugee law; and the pervasive use of externalized, delegated migration controls, in particular by the EU and its Member States. The roots of the current condition are traced back to the containment practices that emerged at the end of the Cold War, with the 2015 "crisis"framed both as an illustration of the failures of containment, and a source of further stasis. Following an overview of the contributions that make up the Special Issue, this Article identifies five emergent themes, and suggests further lines of inquiry. These are: the promise and limits of strategic human rights limitations; the role of both international criminal law, and domestic (and regional) tort law in securing accountability; the turn to positive obligations to challenge entrenched features of containment; and the role of direct action in support of and solidarity with those challenging migration controls most directly, refugees and migrants themselves. Rather than offering panaceas, the Article concludes with the identification of further new challenges, notably the role of new technologies in further dissipating lines of accountability for decisions to exclude.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-334
Number of pages24
JournalGerman Law Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
hosted by the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford in November 2018, supported by the RefMig ERC project. We would first like to express deep gratitude to the German Law Journal for offering such an appropriate forum for publication. Professor Nora Markard, editor at the journal, has shaped the Special Issue profoundly, offering incisive and insightful comments on the contributions.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Human rights
  • International law
  • Litigation
  • Migration
  • Refugees

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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