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17 Geo. Immigr. L.J. 367 (2002-2003)
Is Truth in the Eye of the Beholder - Objective Credibility Assessment in Refugee Status Determination

handle is hein.journals/geoimlj17 and id is 377 raw text is: IS TRUTH IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER?
OBJECTIVE CREDIBILITY ASSESSMENT IN
REFUGEE STATUS DETERMINATION
MICHAEL KAGAN*
I. INTRODUCTION
Credibility assessment is often the single most important step in determin-
ing whether people seeking protection as refugees can be returned to
countries where they say they are in danger of serious human rights
violations. Refugee applicants' cases often depend on the value of their word
alone, since asylum-seekers can rarely specifically corroborate the central
elements of their claims. Public concerns about asylum systems often center
on suspicion that asylum-seekers weave false accounts to win residence in
wealthy countries, fears that the September 11 attacks in New York and
Washington and the ensuing War on Terrorism likely heighten. Protecting
people at risk of rights violations and building confidence in the integrity of
refugee status determination (RSD) require fair and reliable assessments of
credibility.
Despite its importance, credibility-based decisions in refugee and asylum
cases are frequently based on personal judgment that is inconsistent from one
adjudicator to the next, unreviewable on appeal, and potentially influenced
by cultural misunderstandings. Some of the people who need protection most
are especially likely to have trouble convincing decision-makers that they
should be believed. Responding to these concerns, courts, governments,
commentators and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
have increasingly sought to give credibility assessments a more concrete
basis. Administrative agencies in the U.S. and Canada have articulated
specific factors that adjudicators should consider when deciding whether to
accept the testimony of a refugee claimant. UNHCR, governments, and
courts have also recognized a number of reasons to accept refugee applicant
testimony even when it contains significant flaws.
Despite this trend toward more objective credibility assessments, adminis-
trative tribunals and courts still wrestle with whether credibility is ultimately
a matter of impression that should be left to first instance decision-makers.
Appellate tribunals often accept negative credibility findings with very light
*  The author (J.D. Michigan 2000) was adjunct assistant professor and visiting scholar at the
American University in Cairo from 2001-2002. The author is grateful to Gina Bekker, Heather
Gillies, Joshua Kagan, and Richard Kagan for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.

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