The dissertation examines how judges and policy makers assess the probative value of Country of Origin Information (COI) in the context of international protection standards in guidance for decision-making. In the past, research on fact-finding and evidence assessment in asylum procedures has focused on evidence provided by asylum applicants in the form of statements and associated credibility issues. There is also extensive research available on the work done by COI researchers and the quality of their COI products. However, the approach to Country of Origin Information taken by decision makers, judges and policy makers has been left mostly unattended. Therefore, this dissertation looks into the application of the evidentiary standards more thoroughly; It examines how information is assessed and why substantial weight is attached to certain information.
For this purpose, the dissertation maps out four COI quality standards that have been set by key institutions that are involved in asylum decision-making at different levels. Furthermore, it examines how these institutions apply the quality standards in practice. The examined institutions include the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the United Kingdom Upper Tribunal, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (UK). In order to identify good practices by the examined institutions, their approaches to Country of Origin Information are measured against the COI quality standards in the 2013 ACCORD training manual.
The research findings, published in the form of articles in peer-reviews journals, show a consensus with regard to most COI quality standards. However, there are some minor, yet relevant, differences regarding the interpretation of the quality standards relevancy, accuracy and transparency. Moreover, the findings show a poor application of the standards in practice. In particular, the ECtHR, UNHCR and the Netherlands and the UK do not apply the quality standards in a consistent manner. As a result, their conclusions concerning international protection needs are not always visibly based on relevant, accurate, reliable and balanced information. The UK Upper Tribunal, on the other hand, relies on a wide range of information that is properly assessed by the Tribunal. The Country Guidance Determinations that systematically discuss Country of Origin Information along the lines of the identified Country Guidance Issues serve as good practices and form the basis for the recommendations to the other examined institutions.
The recommendations to the ECtHR, the UK Upper Tribunal and UNHCR focus on the difference between primary and secondary sources, the use of three different types of sources and a more transparent assessment of Country of Origin Information. Finally, a set of recommendations focuses specifically on the application of the common principles and standards for Country of Origin Information in the European Union. The dissertation recommends that the harmonization of the application of Country of Origin Information at the level of the EU Member States is achieved through the adoption of common standards in legally binding EU legislation.