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Causality and Outcome Responsibility

Part of the International Political Theory book series (IPoT)

Abstract

This chapter examines the condition that, for a state to owe asylum as reparation to refugees, it must bear outcome responsibility for their flight. After explaining why outcome responsibility (as defined by Tony Honoré and David Miller) is an appropriate standard in this context, Souter explores the ways in which this form of responsibility may be justifiably assigned to states in different kinds of case in which they create displacement, ranging from those in which states directly create refugees to those in which they only create the conditions for their flight. The chapter concludes by suggesting that more political and deliberative ways of assigning responsibilities acquire particular importance in cases where pinpointing causal links between states’ actions and refugee movements is highly challenging.

Keywords

  • Asylum
  • Reparation
  • Responsibility
  • Causality
  • Forced migration

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Similarly, Michael Blake (2013: 114) evaluates (and then rejects) what he calls the ‘causality argument’, which holds that ‘where a state is causally responsible for the destruction of a foreign political community, that state acquires a moral duty to open its borders to at least some number of those individuals affected by the state action’ (Blake, 2013: 112). While it may be that what both Carens and Blake consider to be a relevant ‘causal connection’ is broadly similar to what others would view as outcome responsibility, this remains unclear, for they do not clarify their underlying conceptions of causality.

  2. 2.

    Of course, in reparative arguments concerning the harms of climate change, it is not specifically the earlier industrialising states that are being singled out as responsible, but rather those nations over time which, after a certain point, could reasonably foresee the impact of their emissions (Draper, 2018: 72).

  3. 3.

    While Honoré often writes of compensation, his conclusions are also applicable to reparation more generally given that, as explained in the previous chapter, compensation is one form that reparation may take.

  4. 4.

    Alternatively, if the backpacker had reason to expect the onset of the blizzard, then the situation she found herself in could plausibly be seen as a matter of culpable negligence. In this scenario, she would bear moral rather than only outcome responsibility for her trespass into the cabin, and it is her blameworthiness that would generate her compensatory duty towards the owner.

  5. 5.

    Although many military actions in response to atrocities can be seen as self-interested in various respects (see Wheeler, 2000: 30), there remains the possibility, however unlikely, that such an intervention may be motivated primarily, if not entirely, by other-regarding considerations.

  6. 6.

    I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for prompting this point.

  7. 7.

    The concept of internalism within refugee and forced migration studies broadly corresponds to the notion of ‘explanatory nationalism’ employed by Thomas Pogge (2002: 17) in order to characterise endogenous explanations of global poverty. Just as discussions of forced migration have often proceeded as if receiving states are unconnected to the production of refugees, classic treatments of responsibilities for the world’s poor, as Pogge (2002: 288) points out, have proceeded ‘on the basis of the tacit assumption that we are not contributing to the distress we are able to alleviate’.

  8. 8.

    Internalist assumptions can also be found within international documents with, for instance, Principle 2 of the 1992 Cairo Declaration of Principles of International Law on Compensation to Refugees stating that ‘[t]he responsibility for caring for the world’s refugees rests ultimately upon the countries that directly or indirectly force their own citizens to flee…’ (quoted in Lee, 1993: 158, emphasis added).

  9. 9.

    This is the case especially with regard to the most direct cases of recent military intervention. While someone with an internalist disposition could more plausibly take issue with the argument that ex-colonial powers set the stage for contemporary displacement, the effects of external involvement in Iraq and Syria in recent decades are harder to refute.

  10. 10.

    Some scholars have already offered convincing critiques of internalism (e.g. Chimni, 1998: 360). While Zolberg et al. (1989: 277) point to the ‘transnational dynamics of social conflict in the contemporary world, which at least to some degree makes the North coresponsible for the upheavals in the South’, Stephen Castles (2003a: 18) has argued that ‘the North does more to cause forced migration than to stop it, through enforcing an international economic and political order that causes underdevelopment and conflict’.

  11. 11.

    For discussion of the ways in which such ‘intervening agency’ may affect the assignment of responsibilities in the context of just war theory, see Hurka (2011: 247–251).

  12. 12.

    However, one obstacle to using Russia’s causal responsibility for displacement from Syria as the basis of a reparative obligation towards Syrian refugees is the fact that Russia’s elections are widely regarded as not free and fair. This, it could be argued, means that Russia’s citizens, lacking sufficient influence or control over the refugee-producing actions of their government, should not be asked to share in the discharging of the Russian state’s reparative obligations towards Syrian refugees. However, as Miller has suggested, the citizens of non-democratic states may share in responsibility for their state’s actions if its ‘rulers…hold beliefs and values that correspond more or less closely to those of their subjects even though they are not formally accountable to them’. To the extent that this correspondence exists, ‘we can say that they are supported by the people’ and that reparation is owed by the state as a whole (Miller, 2007: 128).

  13. 13.

    It may also be the case that certain international institutions facilitate patterns of forced migration, such as the international resource and borrowing privileges, in which ‘rulers are internationally recognised as entitled to sell natural resources and to borrow money in the name of the country and its people’ (Pogge, 2002: 29). While Pogge has shown how these privileges are deeply implicated in the perpetuation of global poverty, to the extent that these institutions also enable authoritarian states to generate displacement, the international society of states which upholds them bears some outcome responsibility for that displacement.

  14. 14.

    It might also be argued that the international states system itself creates the conditions in which refugee movements will unavoidably occur. Such an argument could build on Emma Haddad’s contention that the refugee is an ‘inevitable if unintended consequence of the international states system’ (Haddad, 2008: 1). However, here I believe an application of Haddad’s work in this way would be unwarranted, given that the international states system need not create refugees simply by virtue of its very existence if each state is disposed to protect its citizens’ rights, and institutes effective practices of governance to that effect.

  15. 15.

    For a detailed account of responsibility for structural injustices arising from colonialism, see Lu (2017).

  16. 16.

    The displacement of Iraqis after 2003 fits this second model for, in addition to the responsibilities of intervening states that formed the military coalition, it appears that civil war was rendered more likely both by the entrenchment of a culture of violence under the Ba’ath regime (Rosen, 2007) and the former international sanctions regime against Iraq (Dodge, 2012: 32). As a result, remaining elements of the previous Iraqi regime and other states which upheld sanctions may also have borne, and probably still bear, reparative obligations to Iraqi refugees in some form.

  17. 17.

    However, attempts to establish that one state bears greater outcome responsibility for displacement than another may be challenging in all but the clearest cases, and raise difficult philosophical questions that fall beyond the scope of this chapter. For instance, if one state had nearly all the resources required to engage in a military campaign that would produce refugees, but needed a far smaller contribution from a second state in order to undertake it, how should reparative responsibilities be distributed among them? Conversely, how should responsibilities fall in cases where military or diplomatic support offered to a refugee-producing state, while welcomed by it, makes no difference to the displacement emanating from it? The answers to these questions would depend in part on whether one gives greater weight to the relative size of states’ contributions to refugee-producing activity or to their causal efficacy when allocating reparative responsibilities to protect refugees.

  18. 18.

    It is important here not to characterise responsibility in ‘zero-sum’ terms (Lu, 2017: 75). Although there are some contexts—such as a situation in which a determinate burden is to be shared out—where the higher the responsibility of one party, the lower the remaining responsibility will be for others, outcome responsibility does not appear to work in this way, for the significant responsibility of one actor need not detract from that borne by others. I am grateful to Daniel Butt for prompting this point.

  19. 19.

    The claim that ex-colonial powers bear either predominant or exclusive outcome responsibility for contemporary displacement from their colonies risks, somewhat patronisingly, a gross underestimation of the agency possessed by local actors within postcolonial states. As John Torpey (2006: 69) has objected in relation to some responses to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, ‘[a] striking feature of this discussion is the extent to which the West is held responsible for the killings that, after all, were committed by Rwandans…The discussion of responsibility for the genocide thus seems oddly to reprise the colonialist perception that Africans lack independent agency’. More generally, Betts and Collier (2017: 99) suggest in their discussion of the Syrian refugee crisis that a ‘lingering vestige of colonialism is that Western commentators are inclined to explain whatever happens anywhere as being due to Western actions’.

  20. 20.

    However, as noted in the previous chapter, former colonial powers may discharge some of their more general reparative obligation to make amends for the legacies of their past colonial rule by accepting a greater number of refugees from their former territories than they would be obliged to on purely humanitarian grounds, even though their flight cannot be meaningfully traced to their former rule.

  21. 21.

    For an argument that a forward-looking approach to responsibilities for refugees is most appropriate for different reasons, see Parekh (2017: ch. 4).

  22. 22.

    However, while in my analysis I turn to more political approaches to attributing responsibilities only when factual determinations of responsibility become very difficult, Goodhart (2017: 183) proposes a theoretical shift to a political interpretation of responsibility for reasons that stretch significantly beyond the recognition of these difficulties.

  23. 23.

    For the argument that Miller’s view of responsibility, despite containing such political elements, is ultimately ‘constrained by an underlying philosophical interpretation of responsibility’, see Goodhart (2017: 178).

  24. 24.

    Although ideally these assignments of responsibility will ‘track identified responsibility’ to the greatest extent possible (Miller, 2007: 85), this kind of deliberative approach cannot rule out the possibility that the deliberations may result in problematic outcomes which do not seem to serve reparative justice. For discussion of how procedural constraints in this context may rule out certain problematic outcomes, see Amighetti and Nuti (2015: 395–396).

  25. 25.

    While Amighetti and Nuti discuss their principle in relation to cases of historical injustices such as slavery and colonialism, it also has potentially radical implications for states’ asylum systems, for it would enjoin states to include refugees making reparative claims in the process of determining them. This involvement could potentially take place at the point where the refugee in question lodges their asylum claim, or through a broader forum that would be created to consider reparation in the wake of a particular incident of displacement.

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Souter, J. (2022). Causality and Outcome Responsibility. In: Asylum as Reparation . International Political Theory. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-62448-4_4

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