2nd Conable Confererence

Refugees, Asylum Law, and Expert Testimony: The Construction of Africa & the Global South in Comparative Perspective

The 2nd Conable Conference examined refugee, asylum seekers, and the role of expert testimony. Expert testimony in support of, and occasionally in opposition to, asylum petitions and refugee status determination, features prominently in North American and European courts and elsewhere. Asylum petitions and refugee status determinations are rich documentary archives tethered to discrete legal contexts – variously, immigration tribunals, courts of appeal, panels of experts or citizen-subjects, according to jurisdiction – by knowledge and expertise. Specialists are increasingly invited to comment on the petitions of asylum seekers and refugees from Africa and the comparative Global South. Commentary may take a variety of forms, including consultation, written reports, formal affidavits and ‘live’ oral testimony and cross-examination in court. It is well known in the legal community that petitions and appeals accompanied by expert reports have a significantly greater likelihood of success. And just as courts are increasingly drawing upon expert testimony in judicial deliberations about asylum seekers and refugees, expertise is emerging as an academic “niche industry” with attendant standards, protocols and guidelines, mirroring those of legal fields with a longer tradition of expertise, such as patent, copyright and intellectual property. Embedded within asylum and refugee narratives, and their successive iterations in rulings, judgments, country of origin information, appeals and precedents, are analytical categories, constructed identities, and personal narratives of fear, trauma and violence.

The 2nd conference resulted in the publication of:

Adjudicating Refugee and Asylum Status: The Role of Witness, Expertise, and Testimony, edited by Benjamin N. Lawrance and Galya Ruffer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014) ISBN: 9781107069060, and

African Asylum at a Crossroads: Activism, Expert Testimony, and Refugee Rights, edited by Iris Berger, Tricia Hepner Redeker, Benjamin N. Lawrance, Joanna Tague, and Meredith Terretta (Ohio University Press, 2015) 


The 2012 Conable Conference gratefully acknowledges the Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights, and the History Department and the Law School of Cornell University.