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TLI Signature Lecture: Professor Walter Kaelin, University of Bern/Switzerland - 'We don’t want to become refugees'

Somerset House East Wing, Strand Campus, London

6 Feb Signature Lecture Flags 780x450 Part of Transnational Law Signature Lecture Series

2018-19 Excluded Voices and Suppressed Narratives

Unblinding Justice for Social Change

Speaker: Professor Walter Kaelin, University of Bern/Switzerland

Title: 'We don’t want to become refugees': Displacement in the context of disasters and climate change


On average, more than 24 million people are displaced each year due to sudden-onset  disasters. The number of people having to leave their homes is likely to increase in the context of climate change. Robust action is needed to prevent disaster induced displacement and to protect those who are displaced within their countries or flee across borders. Prof. Walter Kaelin will discuss policy options and strategies to address this challenge and assess present responses by the international community.

Walter Kaelin is professor emeritus for international and constitutional law at the University of Bern/Switzerland. He is the Envoy of the Chair of  the Platform on Disaster Displacement and has the same position with the Nansen Initiative on Disaster-Induced Cross-Border  Displacement. He also served as Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons as well as member of the UN Human Rights Committee. His numerous publications address issues of international human rights law, with a particular emphasis on the protection of displaced persons.


We live in a hugely polarised world in which, for many, life has become longer and better than in any other time whereas, for many others, it is still “nasty, brutish and short.” Even those who would supposedly fall into the privileged side of the divide increasingly feel their lives and the world are getting worse, not better. They point to the rise in inequality experienced almost everywhere in the world in the past few decades, the growth of suffering and displacement in bloody conflicts, the migration and refugee crisis, the resilient brutality and corruption of authoritarian regimes, and the ever more visible effects of environmental destruction and climate change.     

The 2018-2019 Signature Lectures at the Transnational Law Institute at King’s College London are dedicated to these broad topics of inclusion and exclusion and, in particular, to the longstanding contention that law is both complicit and instrumental in silencing critique and empowering resistance and change. Cloaked in transcendent principles of universality, law should be and often is able to help, but also often fails the most vulnerable, most marginalised and most disempowered people.

This failure is often of law’s implementation, but also of law’s blindness and deafness to the plight of vulnerable groups, whose stories are rarely told and heard.

Building on the approach of KTLS18 ( we are inviting not only legal scholars, but academics, thinkers and doers from all quarters to join the debate and help us uncover and publicise the suppressed stories that may lead to legal developments and social change.

The 2018-2019 lectures are made possible by the generous gift of Sir Dickson Poon in support of the Transnational Law Institute and are open to the interested public.

All events are followed by a reception.

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