Refugee figures rise to nearly 10 million after several years of decrease, High Commissioner tells Third Committee
Sixty-second General Assembly
39th & 40th Meetings (AM & PM)
Refugee Figures Rise to Nearly 10 Million After Several Years of Decrease, High Commissioner Tells Committee
A draft resolution that would have the General Assembly declare 15 October of each year as the International Day of Rural Women was approved as orally revised without a vote today by the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), as Member States stepped up collective efforts to better the lot of women living in rural areas.
The Committee also began its discussion on refugees, returnees and displaced persons, with António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, presenting a report on his Office's (UNHCR) activities. He said that at the end of 2006, after several years of steady decrease, the number of refugees worldwide rose to nearly 10 million. That upward trend had continued this year, with crises in Iraq and the Horn of Africa swelling the ranks of the displaced. Iraqis, both inside and outside their country, were the biggest single group of displaced; they also represented the largest urban refugee group dealt with by the United Nations agency.
Besides establishing an international day, the text approved today would have the Assembly urge Member States, along with the United Nations and civil society, to attach greater importance to the improvement of the situation of rural women, including indigenous women, in national, regional and global development strategies.
The representative of Mongolia, the main sponsor of the resolution, pointed out that the text would highlight the vital role played by international organizations in the improvement of the situation of rural women, particularly in promoting education for all. Particular attention would also be attached to improving the economic and social conditions of older rural women, and would highlight the importance of decent work for all, among other initiatives.
In his statement that opened the afternoon session, Mr. Guterres underscored that, while UNHCR was "not a migration agency", it was concerned by the mixed nature of contemporary population flows. "In the midst of migrants in search of a better life, there are people in need of protection," he said. "The ability to detect them, assure them of physical access, namely to asylum procedures, and to a fair consideration of their claims, is a key element of our mission."
He drew attention to early success in efforts by UNHCR to reform its operations, with a view to spending less on administration and more on refugees. Cost control efforts, "coupled with favourable exchange rates", had put the agency on a more solid financial footing this year. With strong backing from donors, he added, "we should be able to deliver an unprecedented level of protection and assistance to the people in our care".
In other business today, the Committee heard the introduction of six draft resolutions that addressed a moratorium on the death penalty; the promotion and protection of human rights; internally displaced persons; the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief; the Subregional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa; and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.
Action on a draft resolution on eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in all their manifestations, including as instruments to achieve political or military objectives, was deferred at the request of its main sponsor, the United States.
The Committee also concluded its discussion on the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, hearing statements from the representatives of Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, India and Syria.
The Observer of Palestine also spoke on the right to self-determination.
The Observer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies made a statement as well.
The representatives of Algeria, Kuwait, Pakistan, Morocco and India spoke in exercise of the right of reply at the end of the morning session.
Following the High Commissioner's presentation, statements on refugee issues were made by the representatives of Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Democratic Republic of the Congo (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community), Japan, Sudan, Columbia, China, Egypt, Russian Federation, United States, Switzerland, Norway and Afghanistan.
The Observer of the Holy See also made a statement.
The representative of Sudan spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 9 November, to hear the introduction of more draft resolutions, take action on other texts, and conclude its discussion on refugee issues.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to hear the introduction of draft resolutions on: Moratorium on the use of the death penalty (document A/C.3/62/L.29); Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (document A/C.3/62/L.33); Protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons (document A/C.3/62/L.34); Elimination on all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief (document A/C.3/62/L.42); Subregional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (document A/C.3/62/L.44); and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (document A/C.3/62/L.36).
The Committee was then expected to take action on two resolutions on the advancement of women.
A draft resolution on Eliminating the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence as instruments to achieve political or military objectives (document A/C.3/62/L.16/Rev.1), would have the General Assembly urge States to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence. It would also urge States to end impunity by investigating, prosecuting and punishing those responsible for rape and other forms of sexual violence, including members of Government, State or other armed forces, and call upon States to raise awareness about the causes and consequences of rape and other forms of sexual violence.
The draft resolution entitled Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (document A/C.3/62/L.19/Rev.1) would have the Assembly urge Member States, along with the United Nations and civil society, to continue their efforts to implement the outcome of and ensure follow-up to the Organization's conferences and summits, and to attach greater importance to the improvement of the situation of rural women, including indigenous women, in their national, regional and global development strategies. The draft would also have the Assembly declare that 15 October of each year be proclaimed and observed as the International Day of Rural Women.
The Committee was then scheduled to conclude its discussion on the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. (For more background, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3902 of 7 November 2007.)
The Committee was also slated to begin its discussion on refugees, returnees and displaced persons.
Before the Committee was the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/62/12), an account of the work carried out by the agency, between January 2006 and mid-2007, in response to the needs of 32.9 million people of concern, including an estimated 9.9 million refugees. For the first time since 2002, a downward trend in worldwide refugee numbers has been reversed, primarily due to an influx of 1.2 million Iraqi refugees into neighbouring countries. By the end of 2006, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was providing humanitarian assistance, either as the lead agency or as a partner, to 12.8 million internally displaced people. Currently, the number of persons who have been internally displaced due to armed conflict is some 25 million. There were also 5.8 million stateless persons in 2006, more than double the figure from the previous year, although that number fails to capture the full scale or magnitude of statelessness. The global number of asylum-seekers stood at 738,000 at the end of 2006, or 35,000 fewer than the year before, while some 734,000 refugees repatriated voluntarily during 2006 –- one third less than for the previous year.
The report then sets out major challenges to protection and operations. Reviewing the situation in the Middle East, UNHCR states that in Iraq, constant insecurity is spurring massive population displacement; by early 2007, more than 1.9 million people had been displaced within that country, while up to 2 million had fled abroad. In Lebanon, despite massive returns when hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah ceased, up to 200,000 people were still displaced at the end of 2006, their return hampered by the need for reconstruction and demining.
Highlighting developments in Africa, according to the report, armed elements mixing with refugees present complex protection challenges in Chad, while fighting restricts humanitarian access to camps and many displaced people. Further protection issues surfaced when rebels were found to be recruiting refugees in camps. According to the report, the plight of 2.1 million internally displaced Sudanese continues to be precarious, while armed confrontation in Somalia has led to continuous outflows of that country's population into Ethiopia, Kenya and across the Gulf of Aden into Yemen, as well as an increase in internal displacement.
Reviewing the scenario in Asia, UNHCR states that an additional 200,000 people have been displaced in Sri Lanka, where the security situation has deteriorated dramatically. But even though the situation continues to be volatile in parts of that country, some 100,000 refugees have returned home to eastern Sri Lanka. In Timor-Leste, the eruption of violence caused the displacement of some 100,000 people in and around the capital Dili. UNHCR notes that in the absence of political solutions to the complex crisis in Timor-Leste, around 25,000 people are still in emergency shelters in camps.
The report notes that the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol have been strengthened by the adoption in December 2006 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, with the latter introducing a new non-refoulement obligation. Respect for the principle of non-refoulement is critical, yet in a number of situations, asylum-seekers and even recognized refugees have been unable to gain access to safe territory or have been refouled. Such violations occur for various reasons, including concerns that those seeking entry pose a threat to national security. More and more people have been losing their lives whilst taking dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Aden and other maritime areas; UNHCR has been collaborating with the International Maritime Organization to explain to ships' masters the measures to be taken vis-à-vis such migrants and refugees.
The report reviews a number of global priorities and responses for UNHCR, in such areas as health, nutrition, HIV and AIDS, sexual and gender-based violence, education, employment opportunities, access to basic services, and mainstreaming age, gender and diversity considerations in the agency's operations. Turning to durable solutions, it noted that after four years of exceptionally high levels of repatriation, the number of people returning to Afghanistan declined considerably in 2006, leading to renewed pressure to accelerate the reparation of Afghans in Pakistan and Iran. In Liberia, more than 600,000 refugees and internally displaced persons have returned home; in Mauritania, the Government has invited refugees to return home and asked UNHCR to be part of the return and reintegration process. Progress has been made on negotiations with several African Governments on local integration opportunities for long-staying refugees unlikely to return to their countries of origin, notably refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Angola; Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees in West Africa; and Angolan refugees in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.
The report goes to say that internal reforms at UNHCR continue, with the aim of freeing up more resources for field operations and to improve protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.
Also before the Committee were the report of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/62/12/Add.1) and the report of the Secretary-General on Assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (document A/62/316).
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
The representative of Gabon introduced a draft resolution entitled Moratorium on the use of the death penalty (document A/C.3/62/L.29). He said that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, eight countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes; today, 130 countries had done so in law or in practice, and only 25 countries had carried out executions in 2006. The death penalty essentially involved human life; it therefore had to be seen as a matter of human rights. The draft was addressing the right of everyone to life. It was not a matter of unwarranted interference in the domestic jurisdiction of any State, but rather an appeal to enhance human rights and human dignity. The resolution would reinforce and encourage a growing trend to phase out the death penalty. The irreversible and irreparable nature of capital punishment could not be forgotten, and no country or judicial system was immune to miscarriages of justice.
The representative of Norway introduced a draft resolution entitled Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (document A/C.3/62/L.33).
If adopted, the draft resolution would have the Assembly reiterate the importance of the Declaration by the same name as the draft that was adopted by consensus by the General Assembly on 9 December 1998, almost 10 years ago. Norway would continue consulting on the draft with interested delegations to reach consensus. It was the hope of co-sponsors that the text would be adopted without a vote, as in the past.
The representative of Norway introduced a draft resolution entitled Protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons (document A/C.3/62/L.34).
If adopted, he said, the draft would stress that the State had the prime responsibility to protect and assist displaced persons. It would also underline the need for inter-agency coordination in the field, particularly on the connection between the human rights and humanitarian aspects of internal displacement. It was his hope, together with the co-sponsors, that the Third Committee would be able to adopt the resolution without a vote.
A draft resolution on Elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief (document A/C.3/62/L.42) was then introduced by the representative of Portugal on behalf of the European Union. She said the draft condemned all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief. It would call for full implementation of the 1981 Declaration on the elimination of those issues; it would also support the work of the Special Rapporteur in that area. States would be urged to take action to ensure that freedom of religion or belief was protected and respected, while the undeniable role of education and dialogue at all levels of society in responding to intolerance and discrimination would be stressed. While the draft was based on last year's consensus text, it had been streamlined compared to those that preceded it in previous years. Concerns expressed in the Special Rapporteur's report about the rights of non-believers had been included in the text, and the link between freedom of speech and freedom of religion reflected.
The representative of Democratic Republic of the Congo introduced a draft resolution entitled Subregional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (document A/C.3/62/L.44).
Speaking on behalf of the Economic Community of Central Africa (ECCAS), the representative said that if adopted, the draft would support the work of the Centre, which in turn sought to reinforce regional capacities to promote and protect human rights, as well as to contribute towards a culture of democracy. The Centre also sought to prevent conflict and promote sustainable peace in the region, and had become a crucial institution for an area with many challenges. The text was nearly identical to last year's draft, he said, except for a few key paragraphs on the implementation of resolutions already passed on funding. He hoped that the Committee would adopt the draft by consensus and send a strong message on the importance of human rights.
The representative of Mexico then introduced the draft resolution on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (document A/C.3/62/L.36), saying it was a procedural text and therefore concise. The text would have the Assembly welcome the fact that only seven months after the Convention was opened for signing, almost two-thirds of Member States had signed up to it. That was unprecedented, and sent a clear political message. To maintain that positive momentum, the draft would urge all States that had yet to sign up to the Convention to do so as a matter of priority. He hoped that the draft would be approved by consensus.
The representative of Kuwait drew attention to the fact that his delegation had requested to exercise the right of reply under agenda item 67 (indigenous issues). The Chairman, RAYMOND WOLFE ( Jamaica), said that all rights of reply would be exercised at the end of the meeting.
Action on Draft Resolutions
The Committee then began to take action on a draft resolution on Eliminating the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence as instruments to achieve political or military objectives (document A/C.3/62/L.16/Rev.1, with amendments A/C.3/62/L.58 and A/C.3/62/L.59).
The Secretary Moncef Khane said, at this stage, there was no information on programme budget implications. He would revert to that matter at a later date.
The representative of the United States then asked that action on the draft resolution be deferred until the following day, if possible.
The Chairman, with the agreement of the Committee, then deferred the draft to a later date.
The representative of Mongolia then introduced a draft resolution entitled Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (document A/C.3/62.L.19.Rev.1).
He said that the text contained a number of changes as a result of consultations and listed them. The draft would highlight the vital role played by international organizations in the improvement of the situation of rural women, particularly in promoting education for all. It would also focus particular attention on the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of older rural women, and highlight the importance of decent work for all, among other initiatives. A new subparagraph had been inserted which addressed the issues of sexual and reproductive health, as well as family planning, among other health care issues.
The representative of the United States then took the floor to say his delegation understood that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and their five- and ten-year reviews, did not create or recognize a right to abortion. His country's position, therefore, could not be interpreted as one that supported, endorsed or promoted abortion. Also, the United States understood there was international consensus that the term "sexual and reproductive health" did not include abortion or support, endorsement or promotion of it or the use of "abortifacients."
The Committee then approved the resolution, without a vote.
The representative of Colombia said a paragraph in the draft resolution did not include an explicit reference to the situation of indigenous women in rural areas. The Colombian delegation therefore interpreted the paragraph vis-à-vis the general need to pay attention to the improvement of the situation of indigenous, rural women.
The Committee then took note of two notes from the Secretary-General. The first note (document A/62/286/Corr.1) made a minor correction to the Secretary-General's report on The situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people (document A/62/286); the other note (document A/62/84) transmitted to the Assembly the report of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime on its third session, held in Vienna from 9 to 18 October 2006 (document CTOC/COP/2006/14).
RANA SALAYEVA ( Azerbaijan) said the principle of self-determination had evolved, and after decolonization it began to be applied to already self-determined peoples, including those being oppressed by totalitarian authorities. There was no conflict between the principle of the territorial integrity of States and that of the right of peoples to self-determination, even though the latter was restricted by a provision which stated that right could not be exercised if it violated the sovereignty and integrity of States.
She said the conflict between the two principles appeared when attempts were made to apply the principle of self-determination towards the protection of the rights of national minorities. The rights of national minorities were to be considered as part of human rights law, and the principle of self-determination might therefore be applied, in that regard, in different forms: autonomy, self-government, self-rule or self-regulations. Any of those form should be realized with the consent of the national populace, within recognised international borders, and should be guaranteed by the norms and principles of international law, including human rights law. The principle of self-determination did not confer a right for unilateral secession by a specific subset of the population. Self-rule within existing borders was the way to settle the conflict in the South Caucasus.
WAEL ATTIYA ( Egypt) said the right to resist occupation was no less sacred than the right to self-defence, particularly in the face of those who sought to impose illegal situations on the ground, while relying on economic or military muscle in a flagrant violation of the international commitment to promote respect for democracy and human rights. The situation in the Middle East was an example, with Israel continuing to prevent the Palestinian people from exercising their right to self-determination while blowing its own horn about its fake democracy, founded on the occupation of the lands of others and a deprivation of their most basic rights.
He said the report of the Working Group on mercenaries added to concerns about private companies in the security field exacerbating conflicts while undermining international mechanisms aimed at curbing the illicit arms trade and the exploitation of natural resources. As recommended in the report, the role of the State in regulating the activities of those companies must be enhanced, and national monitoring mechanisms to oversee them must be strengthened. Also, efforts to enhance the national capacities of States emerging from conflict must be consolidated so they could develop their security sectors.
Reviewing the situation in the Middle East, he said the role of the United Nations in dealing with the human rights of the Palestinian people must be invigorated. Through its role in the Quartet, the Organization needed to be more broadly and seriously engaged in confidence-building efforts until a just, comprehensive and lasting peace was attained.
HAMID NIKOOHARF ( Iran) said the preparations for the Durban Review Conference were timely, given an unprecedented increase in racist trends in various parts of the world. There had been an alarming increase in racist violence and dissemination of xenophobic thought, particularly in Western countries. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, religious intolerance had been masquerading as freedom of expression. Rejection of cultural diversity had been increasingly manifested by intolerance and the repression of cultural symbols and expressions; that included a rise in "Islamophobia" that was most visible in Western countries. Most worryingly, the culture of Islamophobia or incitement against Islam was being transformed into political ideologies. Islamophobia was more a political and ideological fact than a religious phenomenon. Insulting religions and religious sanctities should be criminalized internationally; the linkage between the fight against terror and the religion of individuals should also be prevented.
He said "gross and systematic violations of human rights" in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were still a matter of deep concern, and the international community should remain seized of that matter until the end of the occupation. Parts of the racist activities of the occupying Power, Israel, had been reflected in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in that Territory. That such violations occurred under the international watch was a travesty. The General Assembly had to speak up for the human rights of the Palestinian people and demand an end to Israel's continued grave violations of human rights. More than ever, joint action against racism was indispensable to bring about fruitful results.
AMMAR HIJAZI, Observer for Palestine , said that the Palestinian people had been the victims of racism for nearly a century. Following their forcible expulsion from their homeland, the Palestinian nation was now made up of millions of refugees. Their right to return to their homes was denied, as it posed a supposed danger to the intention to keep one State "exclusive to one race" at the expense of another. Israel was enacting laws granting others the right to a "so-called" return based on religion and race -- a policy driven by a mentality in which discrimination on the basis of religion and race was inherent, not accidental. The forty-year occupation had turned into an illegitimate, institutional system of colonization, racial discrimination and apartheid, he said.
Israel's oppressive "permit" system was a "morally indignant replica" of apartheid's "pass system." That country's construction of a separation wall translated into cold, hard cement the Israeli Government's racist ideology of separation, as well as exclusivity, and made the establishment of an independent Palestinian State impossible, thus reinforcing the racist practice that security and prosperity for one nation had to be achieved through the exploitation, subjugation, and suppression of another. He said that achieving freedom for the people of Palestine, through the exercise of the inalienable right to self-determination, was the only solution to begin correcting decades of oppression, laden with racist ideology and attitudes.
MEIRAV EILON SHAHAR ( Israel) said that today, notions of racial superiority were not merely anachronistic, but more importantly, morally unjustifiable and universally condemned. Israel, a signatory since 1979 to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, took great pride in the pluralism, openness and diversity of its society. To look at the global situation, racism and xenophobia had become more acute, particularly anti-semitism. Worldwide, there had been 590 cases of deliberate violence and vandalism against Jews, an increase of 31 per cent from the previous year, with the most incidents in Europe and the Middle East. Iran had increased its campaign on Holocaust denial, holding a conference in December 2006 on that topic, organized by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It had been nothing less than a political tirade against the State of Israel and Jews. In contrast, on 26 January 2007, the General Assembly had adopted a resolution against denial of the Holocaust (document A/RES/61/255) that sent a clear message to Holocaust deniers that hatred and sheer racism were unacceptable.
The surge in racist activity expressed by the Special Rapporteur on racism was deplorable, she said. It merited a stronger emphasis on intercultural dialogue and a real commitment by political leaders to combat all forms of prejudice, including Islamophobia and anti-semitism. Increasingly, racist ideology and rhetoric had been finding their way into the political mainstream. To ensure that lessons were drawn from the infamous failed Durban Conference of 2001, the United Nations should firmly oppose attempts by groups and countries to hijack the upcoming Review Conference for their own political gains.
Mr. QWAYDER ( Jordan) said that Jordan treated all its citizens equally, and that its Constitution enshrined the rights of all citizens, including minorities. All were equal before the law in Jordan, and there was no discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity. Jordan was concerned with the rise of violence and xenophobia in political opinions and in society as a whole, and with the displays of racism and xenophobia. His country rejected all forms of incitement to xenophobia, he said. He expressed further concern at the defamation of religion, as well as attempts to link Islam to terrorism and violence. The 2004 letter of the imam reflected the true nature of Islam and the noble actions connected to it.
He called for communication between all cultures to disseminate tolerance and mutual respect and reject violence. His country was party to 19 international conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. He welcomed the progress achieved through the United Nations initiatives to combat racism, in the form of the Convention containing the Durban Declaration and programme of work of 2001, as well as the International Convention itself. Yet in spite of progress made, there was a need for additional measures to bring about tangible results.
ARUNA KUMAR VUNDAVALLI ( India) said the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism had spotlighted signs of an "alarming retreat" in the struggle against racial discrimination and xenophobia, especially evident in the growing acceptance of racist political campaigns and the increase in race-based political violence. That expert had also noted that immigration and asylum issues were the major causes of the resurgence of xenophobia and, in light of the serious nature of the rise in religious defamation, urged the United Nations to step up its efforts to promote inter-religious, intercultural dialogue.
He said India supported the Secretary-General's call for the international community to mount a multifaceted attack against racial discrimination, including through the adoption of relevant legislation, or the amendment of existing laws, as well as through implementing national-level action plans. His delegation looked forward to the two preparatory meetings ahead of the planned review, two years from now, of the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism.
He went on to say that India maintained its unwavering support for the Palestinian people to attain their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination. India had consistently urged the resumption of a face-to-face dialogue between the parties, based on the principles set out by the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process.
The right to self-determination should not become an instrument to promote subversion and erode the political cohesion or territorial integrity of sovereign Member States, he said. Neither could it be abused to encourage secession and "undermine pluralistic and democratic States". There was no room, he added, for "self-determination to be distorted and misinterpreted as a right of a group, on the basis of ethnicity, religion or racial criteria, or any other such categorization, and used as an attempt to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a State".
In that context, he went on, India regretted the "unacceptable reference" to the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir made by Pakistan's delegation. The Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir was "an integral part of the Union of India". The people there had exercised their right of self-determination at the time of Indian's independence and had, subsequently, frequently held free and fair elections at all levels. In contrast, Pakistan pretended to be a protector of such rights while denying even a semblance of such rights to the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and to the people of Pakistan itself. By its references, he asserted, Pakistan was trying to divide the ranks of those who supported the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. It would never succeed in its efforts, he declared.
WARIF HALABI ( Syria) drew attention to the use of modern technology and communications in a way that maligned certain religions and cultures, and glorified one culture over others. Such a situation was a wake-up call to the international community. International security was threatened by racial hatred. The targeting of Arabs and Muslims, in the context of a war on terrorism, was a case in point that had to be looked at. Racist practices and racial discrimination had increased in a blatant and serious way. Killings had been continuing on a daily basis against the Palestinian people, in a feverish attempt to liquidate their just cause, and to colonize illegitimate settlements that were still being built on their land with a view of changing the democratic fabric there. The most evident proof of Israel's racist practices had been the racist separation wall, which flew in the face of the international legitimacy that had given birth to Israel.
She said the United Nations had supervised the "caesarean birth of Israel", but it had failed to "nurture" it; that fact had been referred to by such authoritative international figures as former United States President Jimmy Carter and the former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Syria looked forward to the Durban Review Conference, in order to stand up to such serious phenomena and to eliminate them. The right to self-determination had been guaranteed in the Charter of the United Nations and in General Assembly resolutions. It was saddening that the United Nations, while giving serious attention to the right of self-determination of small islands with populations of a few thousand people, had failed to hold Israel accountable for denying the Palestinians that same right –- a right that was not open to interpretation.
MICHAEL SCHULZ, observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the commitment to practical measures and actions on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was not as strong as had been expected in 2001. Preparations for the 2009 Review Conference had not moved beyond procedural discussions to more substantive debates. From the perspective of the experience of his organization throughout the world, there had to be a much more proactive engagement at the national and local levels.
He said the Red Cross and Crescent Societies would report on implementation of their 2003 pledge for "non-discrimination and respect for diversity" at their thirtieth International Conference, beginning on 26 November in Geneva. Among the measures to be covered in the report was a Diversity Action Group in the secretariat that had determined the need for giving more priority to youth- and volunteer-driven work. Also, operational activities were associated with the need to promote human dignity through respect for diversity and rejection of discrimination. Disaster preparedness and response, for example, must extend all across the population, with no distinction based on race, religion, ethnicity or any other characteristic.
Further, he said, the outcome document of the thirtieth Conference this month would be a declaration on "together for humanity", which would focus on the humanitarian consequences of major challenges facing the world today, two of which dealt directly with the Durban outcome. A workshop on respect for diversity and non-discrimination would also be held, as an inspiration to the partnerships being encouraged between the Societies, Governments and civil groups, since the fight against discrimination must be waged on all fronts, including by addressing the issues of the stigma and marginalization that accompanied all forms of discrimination.
Right of Reply
The representative of Algeria said that Western Sahara was a Non-Self-Governing Territory and that Moroccan sovereignty had been rejected by the International Court of Justice. She made several points, saying that although Algeria had not made the comparison between the people of Palestine and the people of the Western Sahara, it was a relevant comparison. Morocco had accused Algeria of living in the past, but Algeria was building the future. Morocco had denied its commitments every time, yet Morocco would not succeed in sowing doubts about Algeria's interests in that question, which were limited to peace and stability in the region.
The representative of Kuwait said that the policy of his delegation was to use Arabic in all interventions in the Third Committee, but that he would make an exception and speak English this time. The Israeli delegate had mentioned the situation in 1991, but it was an unwise attempt to sow doubts regarding his delegation's support of the Palestinian people. It was worth noting that, on an Israeli delegation website, the title of Professor John Dugard was only listed as a "United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteur", but for what issue, he asked. Only God and the rest of the world knew. Unless Israel withdrew its occupation, it could count on Kuwait and the rest of world to bring matters of international human rights law to the international human rights forums.
The representative of Pakistan said his delegation rejected the statement made by India. Jammu and Kashmir was disputed territory and not an integral part of India. Security Council demands pertaining to it had yet to be implemented. No one should offer lessons in human rights to Pakistan. Human rights had been systematically violated in Jammu and Kashmir, and those had been well documented by international human rights organizations.
The representative of Morocco, responding to Algeria's statement, said that he represented a nation that had existed for four centuries and that did not fear Algeria. The comparison that had been drawn by Algeria yesterday had been unacceptable. It had expressed intransigence on Western Sahara, when objectivity was needed. The issue of Western Sahara was in the hands of the Security Council, and negotiations were underway. Minimal standards for human rights had to be respected, and it was not certain that Algeria had done so internally. What had it been doing for refugees who lived in deplorable conditions at the Tindouf camp? The question of Western Sahara would be resolved, and it could not be used as an outlet for Algeria's own problems.
The representative of India, responding to his counterpart from Pakistan, noted that his country and Pakistan had been discussing outstanding issues bilaterally. Four rounds of dialogue had taken place since 2004 and more would follow, in a process that had led to a significant improvement in relations. Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India. There had to be progress in the normalization of relations, but in an atmosphere free of terrorism and violence. Bilateral issues should be raise bilaterally, not in international forums; the sentiments expressed by Pakistan's delegation had not been helpful.
The representative of Pakistan said his country was committed to eliminating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, but a legitimate struggle for self-determination could not be considered terrorism.
Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons
ANTÓNIO MANUEL DE OLIVEIRA GUTERRES, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the present century was one of people on the move, and poverty was the strongest driving force. Natural disasters and climate change were also factors; that millions would be displaced by rising sea levels was a certainty. UNHCR had a precise mandate in relation to refugees, but to fulfil that mandate the mixed nature of many present-day population flows had to be understood. The ability to detect people in need of protection in the midst of migrants, to assure them access to asylum procedures and fair consideration of their claims, was a key element of UNHCR's mission. The causes of refugee flight were sufficiently worrisome. At the end of 2006, after several years of steady decrease, the number of refugees worldwide rose to nearly 10 million. That upward trend had continued this year, with crises in Iraq and the Horn of Africa swelling the ranks of the displaced. Iraqis, both inside and outside their country, were the biggest single group of displaced; they also represented the largest urban refugee group that UNHCR had ever dealt with. Syria and Jordan had borne a heavy burden in accommodating so many Iraqis; they were among the very generous countries in the developing world that had hosted an outsized number of refugees.
To meet its challenges, UNHCR had to be dynamic and flexible, Mr. Guterres said. While not a migration agency, it had been fully engaged in the work of the Global Migration Group; it also supported the Global Forum on Migration and Development. Another example of the agency's evolving mission was its commitment to the United Nations cluster approach to internal displacement situations, a framework that allowed the agency to enhance protection and aid to millions in need. Nine of the 24 operations in which UNHCR was engaged had activated the cluster approach. To measure effectiveness, several real-time evaluations of operations for the internally displaced had been conducted and made available to Member States.
So far in 2007, more than half a million refugees had gone home with the help of UNHCR, he said, including Afghans, Southern Sudanese, Burundians and Congolese. Obstacles along a returnee's way remained all too real, however, while expectations had been raised. Such initiatives as the Peacebuilding Commission and the Millennium Development Goals had brought new prospects to post-conflict recovery efforts, but the scale of the problem was so immense, and the number of displaced so large, that much more had to be done. An internal debate had been launched within UNHCR on protective strategies and standards; States and non-governmental organizations were encouraged to participate. The goal was to improve of the lives of those difficult to reach.
A refugee's return home in safety and dignity remained the preferred solution, but return alone was not enough, he said. Some could not go home. Resettlement had become a crucial burden-sharing mechanism that needed global solutions. Within UNHCR, reform efforts had produced their first results. In 2007, for the first time in a decade, an upward trend in global staff costs had been reversed. In the first six months of the year, 36 million dollars more were spent on operations than on staff; with money not spent on last year's staff budget, 15 million dollars went to address such pressing needs as malnutrition, malaria, reproductive health, and sexual and gender-based violence. Other initiatives being taken included "out-posting" administrative functions from Geneva to Budapest, a move that would save 10 million dollars a year; decentralization and regionalization; a comprehensive review of field activities; improved management of resources; a new budget structure; and reforms in several areas of human resources. Cost control efforts, plus favourable exchange rates, would put UNHCR on a more solid financial footing this year. Strong backing from donors throughout the year meant that UNHCR should be able to deliver an unprecedented level of protection and assistance to the people in its care.
The representative of Sudan mentioned the incident where more than 100 children were removed by a French organization, and asked the High Commissioner to comment on it, as that incident was clearly a violation of the rights of those children. He also asked if UNHCR had made any related statement.
The representative of Iraq thanked the High Commissioner for his report and for his efforts to help internally displaced Iraqis and refugees. His country appreciated the efforts to coordinate national, regional and international efforts in that regard. The issue of internally displaced people and refugees had a long history in Iraq, and the situation had now worsened because of the lack of security, as well as terrorist and militia activities. Violence did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion or nationality. The military actions the High Commissioner had referred to aimed to create the appropriate economic and security conditions that would facilitate the voluntary return of Iraqi refugees. Those efforts had started to bear fruit, and security was being stabilized. He asked whether it was the High Commissioner's belief that the presence of a small number of international personnel would suffice, given the displacement of a great number of Iraqi people. Also, he wanted to know what measures were being taken by UNHCR to help Iraqi refugees return. He also expressed appreciation for the support of States hosting large numbers of Iraqis who had fled the country, and admitted that it was a heavy burden for them to bear.
The representative of Georgia thanked the High Commissioner for his report, and gave a brief overview of the situation in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, where ethnic cleansing had forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. She mentioned her Government's commitment to a peaceful solution, and hoped that there would be strong action from the international community and the United Nations for the safe and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced people to their places of origin.
The representative of Palestine asked what kind of assistance was being provided to Palestinian refugees in Iraq, as they happened to be in a special place.
The representative of Côte d'Ivoire said his delegation had taken note of the High Commissioner's recommendations and wished to assure him of the cooperation of his country in seeking lasting solutions.
The representative of Egypt said that it was very important that there was coordination of the kind happening now between the High Commissioner and other agencies working with internally displaced persons. Such coordination should be emphasized more and more, as displaced people were an issue that needed attention. Egypt failed to see the exact numbers that were indicated in the report, as it did not make a distinction between refugees and internally displaced persons, and hoped the question could be dealt with in the next report.
The representative of Iraq took the floor again to say that some of the ideas of the intervention had been omitted the first time around. His delegation had been referring to terrorist activity as one of the causes for internal displacement and as a reason for refugee flows. He asked for the High Commissioner's thoughts on the forced returns of Iraqi refugees.
The representative of Burundi asked for more details on UNHCR's policy vis-à-vis refugees and family reunification.
Responding to the representative of Sudan, Mr. GUTERRES noted that his Deputy was in Sudan today, where a joint statement from the Government, UNHCR and other United Nations agencies had been drafted concerning the children in Chad, whose situation had been regrettable and unacceptable. UNHCR was helping to identify where the children came from, with a view to arranging their return. The large majority of the children had come from Chad, and only a limited number from the Sudan. The immediate needs of all the children were being adequately addressed, and their rights were being respected.
To the representative of Iraq, he said it was "absolutely essential" that asylum space outside Iraq be maintained. Syria and Jordan had accepted Iraqi children into their school systems; access to health care had also been extended. Refugees from Iraq in those countries were urban refugees; they were more difficult to reach out to than refugees in camps, but efforts were being made with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and others to help the most desperate families.
Mr. Guterres urged the Government of Iraq to engage in meaningful cooperation with Syria and Jordan. Iraqi refugees in those counties needed to keep a link with their country, and engagement between Governments was important.
He thanked Georgia's delegation for the strategy that its Government had adopted vis-à-vis displaced persons. People did not have to be kept in appalling conditions; it was necessary to have protection, assistance and the best possible living conditions for displaced persons. In the longer term, there was no humanitarian solution, only a political solution.
Palestinian refugees in Iraq had been dramatically targeted, he said. Some communities in that country had linked Palestinians with the old regime, and that made no sense at all. More than 600 Palestinians had been killed violently, mainly in the Baghdad area. That was a key protection concern. Some countries had proposed solutions –- Sudan had offered 1,500 resettlement opportunities –- and the Palestinian Authority had shown an open and constructive attitude. Palestinian refugees in Iraq had been really suffering in very, very dramatic circumstances.
Regarding Palestinian refugees living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, they fell under the competence of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he said. UNHCR worked very well with that Agency, complementing each other to the greatest extent possible.
He noted that Côte d'Ivoire had accepted refugees from neighbouring countries and enabled them to integrate. Within Côte d'Ivoire, it was hoped that the peace process would result in a short-term solution for internally displaced persons.
To the representative of Egypt, he said that UNHCR worked according to its mandate in the case of refugees and stateless persons. In the case of internally displaced persons, it worked as part of a collective effort on behalf of the humanitarian community. Recalling that primary responsibility for displaced persons rested with the Government concerned, he then provided a number of statistics on returnees.
The High Commissioner thanked the representative of Burundi for his question. A system of registration and documentation had been developed, using well-developed software. Recognizing members of the same family was the main objective, with a view to enabling family reunification, which was a major factor in returns. A series of principles were in place regarding children, especially those who had been travelling without adults.
JOÃO SALGUEIRO (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the conclusions adopted at EXCOM (Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme) on children at risk. Children were a group with special needs and vulnerabilities, including the specific needs of girls. The debate on the participation of non-governmental organizations at the same venue had also been enlightening, he said, and the Union appreciated the important work of those organizations in alleviating the "dire situation" of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world.
He expressed the European Union's concern at the situation of internally displaced people in Iraq, as well as the situation of Iraqi refugees abroad. The continuing security problems in Sudan were also cause for concern, and he called on the Government of Sudan to ensure security conditions, and to entrust UNHCR with the authority for the overall protection and camp coordination for internally displaced persons. The Union strongly supported the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in its structural and management change process, and said it would certainly maximize UNHCR's responsiveness to the needs of its beneficiaries. The European Union was pleased at the Office's suggestions for establishing a common asylum procedure within Europe, and counted on the agency to provide additional constructive inputs in the process.
ILEKA ATOKI ( Democratic Republic of the Congo), on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said parts of Africa were still characterized by a high degree of unpredictability. Intensified crises had produced increasing numbers of refugees and other displaced persons. Women and children were among those most affected by conflict and, therefore, had specific protection needs. Children separated from their parents were even more exposed to abuse. In that context, reunification should be a priority for protection agencies, and additional safeguards for children must put in place, particularly for those separated during asylum procedures. He also called for sustained action to implement Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) on children in armed conflict.
On sexual and gender-based violence, he said programmes to identify and treat survivors that included psychosocial counselling were essential for reintegrating victims with their communities. States had primary responsibility for refugee protection, and their cooperation and political resolve were needed to help UNHCR fulfil its mandate. In that context, he said States and others should help mobilize resources for countries that had received large numbers of refugees.
As the UNHCR report noted, assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa was still of particular concern, he said. Moreover, the subregion was facing mixed flows of refugees and economic migrants, which had led to tighter border controls. He acknowledged the High Commissioner's efforts to help Governments identify people needing international protection, and said the "cluster approach" had helped to identify the needs of internally displaced persons.
TETSUJI MIYAMOTO ( Japan) said his country was concerned about the fact that the total number of refugees had increased by 14 per cent since last year, and that there were still too many protracted refugee situations. Japan attached great importance, not only to refugee and internally displaced peoples' issues, such as those in Sudan, Chad, Somalia and Sri Lanka, which were changing every day, but also to the longer-term operations in Asia, Bhutan and Myanmar, for example. As a token of Japan's long-standing commitment to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the country had decided to provide new assistance to the office's activities in the area of vocational training for refugees, internally displaced people and returnees. Those projects were useful in effecting a seamless transition from relief to development.
He said his country was of the view that structural reform and management change were indispensable to an effective response to refugee problems and the growing workload in related areas. It was important to strike the right balance between staff and management costs versus operational costs, and Japan supported the High Commissioner's leadership in that regard. However, there was considerable room for improvement in providing assistance to internally displaced people, and whether the current arrangement for assisting them was adequate remained one of the most important issues the United Nations needed to discuss. Next year, Japan would hold the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, at which it was planning to make human security in Africa one of the principal topics of discussion.
IDREES MOHAMED ALI MOHAMMED SAEED ( Sudan) said his country had opened its doors to scores of refugees from neighbouring countries, despite the negative social, economic and cultural consequences. His country's religious values and heritage caused it to provide relief and help to refugees and to fulfil the commitments it had made in international refugee agreements. A conducive environment for the return of refugees and internally displace persons in southern Sudan had been created with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Intensive efforts were needed to provide housing, health care, education and livelihoods; international assistance was needed.
Regarding the Darfur peace accord signed in Abuja, he said that great strides had been made by his Government in creating conditions conducive to the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. A ceasefire had been unilaterally declared by the Government to reflect its sincere desire to reach a political solution with rebel movements that had rejected the Abuja accord. Sudan aspired to continue its partnership with UNHCR, the United Nations, and its various agencies and programmes to enable a shift from humanitarian relief to development.
CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said the United Nations "Delivering as One" initiative and the thematic groups of the cluster approach needed detailed intergovernmental analysis. Therefore, while consultations among States on system-wide coherence reforms were in progress, the institutional arrangements referred to in the report should be applied only upon request, with the consent of the States.
She reiterated her country's request that UNHCR unify its statistics on humanitarian situations, taking into account data provided by States themselves. In the case of Colombia, the number of displaced persons indicated in the report was "notably higher" than the total number of displaced persons registered in the country over the past 10 years. The report did not indicate the period of time covered, or consider returns produced in the country.
The report also failed to refer to UNHCR alliances with national Governments, an issue of particular relevance on the theme of internal displacement. She stressed that her Government had taken on "primary responsibility" in the prevention, assistance, and protection of internally displaced persons, and the State budget for this matter was close to $500 million annually. New cases of displacement had declined annually by 44 per cent since 2002, and 82 per cent of persons had received emergency humanitarian assistance. Further, a system of indicators had been created to measure the impact of Government programmes on displaced persons.
KE YOUSHENG ( China) expressed concern that for the first time since 2000, the number of refugees had shown a drastic increase. The number of refugees assisted by UNHCR had gone down last year by three per cent compared to 2005, accounting for only 45 per cent of the total refugee population. UNHCR should analyze the reasons for that and identify clear strategies for improvement. The number of internally displaced persons was also rising. While appreciating the role UNHCR had played in providing protection and assistance to displaced people, he hoped that its activities in that regard would abide strictly by relevant Assembly resolutions.
Noting that the "Structural and Management Change Process" launched by UNHCR continued to proceed with good results, he hoped that the reform process could progress smoothly on the basis of extensive consultations and in a transparent manner. Developing countries now sheltered three quarters of the world's refugees, and many of them were under heavy social and economic stress as a result of that. The international community, in particular developed countries, and UNHCR had the responsibility to help those developing countries with capacity-building and to seek a lasting solution to the refugee issue in the spirit of "international solidarity and burden sharing".
Mr. ATTIYA ( Egypt) noted that there were around 9.5 million refugees in the world, more than a quarter of whom were in Africa. The Commission had done much to protect and care for refugees, even though funding was a major hurdle. He also noted that the Commission had carried out its work in an inter-agency context, but added that such activities should also be conducted in "a framework of dialogue" with Member States. As for the 24.5 million internally displaced persons around the world, he acknowledged the need to address their situation as well, but said it should not be done at the expense of the Commission's original mandate.
He said that to tackle the refugee issues, the international community should take steps to eliminate the intrinsic causes of conflicts in the world, since conflicts were what drove people to abandon their homes in the first place. Furthermore, international refugee law and international humanitarian law should be made to complement one another, and the issue of refugees should not be "muddied" by security obsessions or issues of illegal migration. Also, countries should do more to share the responsibility of protecting and supporting refugees, given that most host States were in the developing world. Refugees should be allowed to return voluntarily to their homelands or to resettle in third countries, while assistance should be given to Governments of countries emerging from conflict to shore up their capacity to provide basic services to citizens. On that matter, the role of the Peacebuilding Commission should be reinforced.
He added that Egypt had always been active in developing an international refugee law, including through the "convention plus" initiative to complement the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. It had also worked to realize a more equitable partnership in sharing both burdens and responsibilities. It was to be hoped that international efforts on that issue would lead to lead to a framework for international action using the best available approaches.
ALEXEY GOLTYAEV ( Russian Federation) said an analysis of the situation of the world's refugees in the report presented had emphasized the importance of protecting that segment of the population and the need for guidelines for such work. Thanks to the dialogue with the Executive Committee, the Russian Federation had been able to have a reliable system for working with individuals seeking refuge. He welcomed the policy for reform rationalizing structures and the functions of management, and the work of the executive committee should be continued. In situations where there were refugees, UNHCR should play a leading role, within the framework of its mandate.
Dialogue should not be limited to existing standards, but should deal with real issues, such as reducing illegal migration and the misuse of refuge institutions. Important in that dialogue was the question of reducing statelessness. He mentioned the situation in Latvia, where the Government had introduced the concept of non-citizenship; however, for most of the world's community, the status of non-citizen was not fundamentally different from statelessness. The Russian Federation felt it was necessary to overcome the current impasse and adopt more positive measures with no political agenda. The Russian Federation supported the line of seeking a long-term solution to those problems, and on the issue of mass resettlement in emergency situations, favoured a more weighted approach.
CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, noted a "creeping fatigue and pessimism" within the international community vis-à-vis humanitarian assistance, adding that UNHCR was an essential instrument for States to honour their commitment to protect those fleeing their homes. There were many challenges, and masses of people were "on the move" for various reasons including armed conflict, extreme poverty and natural disasters. Preoccupations had been expressed that the status of such peoples was caught in "legal grey areas", especially when they moved across the frontiers of countries or regions with rigid migration policies. Concerns increased when doubts arose about the applicability of existing international instruments, or when no such legal instruments of protection existed. It was therefore urgent to consider coordinated international efforts to better clarify existing legal instruments of protection or, if need be, to establish new ones. He appealed to countries to employ all measures to ensure that the human rights of refugees, displaced persons and undocumented migrants were adequately protected, irrespective of their status.
He was distressed by the painful conditions of those fleeing long-running conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Darfur, and Afghanistan, among other regions. Moreover, Iraqi refugees and others fleeing "indiscriminate attacks" constituted the most massive population displacement in recent years. He expressed appreciation to Iraq's neighbours, who continued to welcome millions of people, and called on the global community to sustain those countries and UNHCR in their work with them. Collaboration among States, international organizations and civil society, conducted in reciprocal trust, could generate coherent answers for those needing protection.
GROVER JOSEPH REES (United States) said that, as UNHCR expanded its protection responsibilities to meet the varied needs of growing numbers of refugees, stateless persons, internally displaced persons and others of concern, it was necessary for the entire international community to reinvigorate efforts to address protection challenges. To do that, synergies among protection efforts must be identified, and relevant resources and institutional capacities must be rationalized. For that reason, he strongly supported UNHCR's efforts to institute results-based management and related reforms, and urged the agency to increase its efforts to implement outstanding recommendations in that regard.
He urged UNHCR to continue to improve its budget structure, in consultation with Member States, and to detail unmet needs as well as the impact of budget shortfalls, which were the agency's most compelling arguments for additional funding in future years. He also welcomed collective action on protection, in partnership with host Governments, sister agencies, donor countries and non-governmental organizations, and said that UNHCR had shown serious commitment to its new cluster lead responsibilities, having become a model, in that respect, that other agencies could learn from. In closing, he reaffirmed the United States' commitment to UNHCR's policy, programme and performance, as well as to the search for durable solutions for as many refugees as possible.
JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY ( Switzerland) noted that the primary responsibility of protection of refugees lay with States. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol were the cornerstones of the Office of the High Commissioner's mandate. He welcomed UNHCR's efforts to improve instruments and approaches to strengthen the protection of countries with large influxes of refugees. Switzerland had formulated a regional protection concept to contribute to the more rapid and effective protection of refugees in their region of origin. Encouraging all concerned actors to implement the Ten Point Action Plan, he thanked the Office of the High Commissioner for its activities with mixed migratory flows, and for its contribution to reflection on international migration.
Taking up the Office's modular approach to the protection of refugees in conflict situations, he emphasized that implementation of that new approach posed substantial operational challenges, and he commended the Office's initiative to identify challenges on the ground. He called for continued dialogue on the specific mandate with which the International Committee of the Red Cross was entrusted in cases of protection and assistance to civilian populations in non-international conflicts. Stressing that the Office's reform measures were reaching a decisive phase, he noted that the most important aspects –- namely, decentralization and an improved management structure –- were being implemented. Switzerland would continue to support the regionalization process, notably in the international protection and technical areas.
UNNI RAMBOLL ( Norway) said the roll-out of the cluster approach had contributed to an improved humanitarian response. She commended UNHCR for its efforts as both leader and participant of the cluster approach. According to the real-time internal evaluations by the agency of the cluster approach, operations for internally displaced persons had not negatively impacted UNHCR's work to help refugees. However, the evaluation did identify the need to improve human resource capacity and deployment routines. She encouraged the agency to address that as a matter of priority, and also to step up efforts in connection with the further roll-out of the cluster approach at the field level. There was a steady decrease in the number of refugees in recent years. But that trend was reversed last year. The increase of the refugees leaving Iraq had pushed up the total number of refugees to almost 10 million. That showed the volatility of the global refugee situation.
Voluntary repatriation was still the preferred long-term solution in most refugee situations, she said. Refugee return and reintegration programmes should be strengthened. She supported the upcoming paper by UNHCR's Policy Development and Evaluation Service on the High Commissioner's role in support of the return and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons in post-conflict and transition. The international community must intensify efforts to address early recovery and transition. She expressed concern over the millions of displaced persons in Iraq and neighbouring countries. The gender-based violence noted in the Emergency Relief Coordinator's report from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other crises must be vigorously addressed.
MARIAMME NADJAF ( Afghanistan) underlined UNHCR's assistance to her country's Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, to create conditions conducive for the safe and dignified return of Afghan refugees. Thirty years of conflict had forced millions of Afghan citizens to migrate abroad. After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, more than 5 million had returned; however, some 3 million Afghans still remained in Pakistan and Iran. Their voluntary return and reintegration was a priority for the Government.
She recalled a General Assembly resolution adopted on 5 November that asked countries that continued to host Afghan refugees to observe their obligations under international refugee law, with respect to the protection of refugees, the principle of voluntary and gradual return, and the right to seek asylum, and to allow international access for their protection and care. Afghanistan counted on the continued support of the international community and relevant United Nations agencies to enable the sustainable return and reintegration of its refugees.
Right of Reply
The representative of Sudan, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, referred to the statement by Portugal on behalf of the European Union. His Government was involved in ongoing efforts to facilitate humanitarian access. To that end, an agreement with the United Nations had been signed. The European Union had mentioned attacks against humanitarian workers, but those attacks had been carried out by rebels. Responsibility for protecting camps in Darfur rested with the Government, which was in contact with UNHCR.
Statement by the Chairman
The Chairman told the Committee that it was "lagging behind" in its work vis-à-vis the introduction and action on draft resolutions. Long delays were being accrued in comparison to previous sessions. He reminded delegations that they had agreed to try to complete work by 21 November. He said that all main sponsors whose draft resolutions had been issued, or were ready to be issued, should be prepared to introduce them tomorrow afternoon, when action on drafts already introduced could also be taken.
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