Nairobi Code

The Nairobi Code is a non-binding model for ethics in refugee law. It was developed in 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya by UNHCR and a group of legal advocates from all over the world. The Nairobi Code serves to standardize refugee-related legal aid and guide legal advocates through ethical dilemmas that arise when providing counsel, representation, or advice to refugees. The Nairobi Code is intended to be a model of best practices. It should be adopted voluntarily and it does not replace state regulations for legal aid practice. Asylum Access has adopted the Nairobi Code as its model for legal aid ethics, but recognizes that it is simultaneously bound to other regulations.

As a refugee rights organization, the Nairobi Code will govern the work of your team and your advocates. This code of professional conduct provides clear guidance to answering ethical dilemmas. Nonetheless, you will likely encounter many ambiguous ethical choices in your work, and may not have satisfying options moving forward.

Moreover, you may find that local attitudes towards ethics diverge significantly from the Nairobi Code. For instance, the duty to keep client confidences even when your client admits wrongdoing—past persecution of others, for example—goes against the instincts of many human rights advocates. Together with the lack of resources to resolve ethical issues in Africa, Asia and Latin America, these cultural differences make solving ethical issues in refugee cases a significant challenge.

When faced with difficult ethical challenges, you should rely on the experience of your colleagues in the global refugee rights movement. It is entirely ethical to consult other practitioners on ethical issues, so long as you do not reveal identifying information regarding your client. You should also encourage regular open discussions of ethical issues among your team members. By encouraging the discussion of ethical dilemmas among your legal advocates, you will promote a culture of actively identifying, raising and evaluating them collectively.

The most important role you can play in ensuring that your staff does not make ethical mistakes is to train them to identify when ethical dilemmas arise. Hypothetical and issue-spotting exercises are two ways to prime your advocates to be constantly aware of ethical issues. Asylum Access developed The Nairobi Code Discussion Leader’s Guide, which is a good tool to use to train your staff. It is located on the training activities page.

Another good practice is to always discuss ethical problems with your entire team whenever they arise. Managers should also play an active role in case management by discussing individual cases with advocates on a regular basis. This will help ensure that even a legal advocate experienced in spotting and resolving ethical issues is aware of potential ethical violations.