Security concerns are major challenges to humanitarian operations, 3rd Committee told, as it concludes discussion of refugee issues
Committee Also Hears Introduction of 17 Draft Resolutions on Human Rights
Fifty-ninth General Assembly
40th & 41st Meetings (AM & PM)
Security issues due to armed conflicts and the threat of terrorism are becoming one of the major challenges to humanitarian operations, delegates today told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) as it concluded its general discussion on refugees, returnees and displaced persons.
The United Nations and other humanitarian personnel faced growing security risks, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian personnel to adequately protect and assist refugees and internally displaced persons, said the representative of Liechtenstein. She said the rising number of casualties among humanitarian staff operating in conflict and post-conflict areas was alarming.
Universally agreed principles of international humanitarian and human rights law were simply neglected by Government forces and by the increasing number of non-State actors involved in armed conflicts. She urged Governments to hold groups involved in armed conflicts accountable to internationally agreed standards. The primary responsibility for this task lay with Governments, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations relied on their cooperation and support. Ending impunity and bringing to justice those responsible for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law was one of the major preconditions for the successful return and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons.
The representative of Canada said humanitarian crises such as those in Darfur and Haiti made it more urgent for States to improve the means at their disposal to prevent the conflicts that created refugee flows. Major challenges remained in the areas of human rights, security, and armed conflicts, which continued to lead to situations of mass refugee influx and to threaten the durability of returns.
Ensuring the security of humanitarian personnel must remain a priority for the international community, said the representative of Switzerland. The Swiss Government continued to endorse all measures taken by the UNHCR to improve the security of its staff. Swiss authorities were working with the agency to improve security at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, with costs to be shouldered by Switzerland.
The representative of Ukraine said the massacre of refugees in the Burundi camps in August demonstrated the heightened security risks to refugee populations in conflict and post-conflict areas. Ukraine supported the steps taken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to strengthen its partnership with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to define their appropriate roles in preventing such attacks against refugees in the future.
The representatives of Eritrea, Croatia, Republic of Korea, Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russian Federation, Cuba, Algeria, Azerbaijan, India, Indonesia, United Republic of Tanzania, Jordan, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria and Kenya also delivered statements. There were also statements from the representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
In exercise of their right of reply, the representatives of Armenia, Morocco, Azerbaijan and Algeria made statements following the general discussion.
Also today, the representatives of Cuba, Malaysia, Australia, Russian Federation, Belgium, Finland, Netherlands, France, Romania, Canada and Belarus introduced a number of draft resolutions on a variety of issues related to the Committee's consideration of human rights.
The Third Committee will meet again at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow, 11 November, to take action on draft resolutions.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its general discussion on refugees, returnees and displaced persons. For additional background information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3801 of 9 November. In the afternoon, the Committee was expected to hear introductions of several draft resolutions submitted under its consideration of human rights.
Statements on Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons
AMANUEL GIORGIO (Eritrea) said his country's humanitarian concerns were not limited to return of the refugees from the Sudan. Drought victims, internally displaced persons and expellees from Ethiopia must also be included on the list of vulnerable groups needing protection and assistance from the Government of Eritrea, and from the international community. Moreover, enormous resources continued to be required for ongoing rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes for war-damaged social and economic infrastructure, including for the clearing of landmines and unexploded ordnance.
He recalled the emphasis placed in the report of the High Commissioner on the three key areas of development assistance to refugees: repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction and development through local integration. His Government had made earnest efforts to implement the "4Rs" by developing an Integrated Recovery Programme and requesting the High Commissioner to spearhead mobilization efforts for the required financial resources. Regrettably, funding for that programme had yet to materialize. Still, the Government remained committed to voluntary repatriation of Eritrean refugees from the Sudan. Voluntary repatriation programmes had neared completion in Eritrea, as well as in some other countries.
Stressing the importance of coordinating protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, which fell between the gap in existing mandates of the United Nations system, he said too little attention had been paid to Ethiopia's formal rejection of the border ruling by the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission. The humanitarian dimension of the rejection concerned the situation of nearly 65,000 internally displaced persons uprooted from their habitual environment, who continued to suffer from the stalled peace process between the two countries.
LARA ROMANO (Croatia) said Croatia placed high on its agenda the process of establishing sustainable conditions and harmonious reintegration of all refugees, including internally displaced persons, into areas of their previous settlements. The Croatian Parliament in 2003 had adopted an asylum law, which had entered into force on 1 July 2004. A law on foreigners, which dealt with elements of protection, had entered into force on 1 January 2004. Those two laws and related laws created the basis for implementation of the asylum procedure in line with the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and other international standards. The Government had also brought measures for the acceleration of the repossession of property and other programs related to the return of refugees.
She said her Government actively participated in educational and training programmes of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It was involved in country-wide training workshops on the role of the UNHCR, the principle of non-refoulement, access to asylum procedures, and cooperation with the non-governmental organizations (NGO). As a result of these efforts there had been considerable progress in the return process. To date more than 320,000 refugees had returned to Croatia, and there were 14,000 repossessed property units and 128,000 reconstructed houses and apartments. Her Government looked forward to continuing to strengthen cooperation with the UNHCR.
SEOUNG-HYUN MOON (Republic of Korea) said the significant decrease in the number of persons of concern to the UNHCR was encouraging. That development was largely attributable to tireless efforts to find durable solutions to refugee problems, in particular through large and successful repatriation initiatives in Africa, the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. However, numerous challenges continued to require concerted effort from the international community, including the emergency situation in Darfur, Sudan. His country supported the UNHCR's efforts to put procedures for a collaborative approach between assistance and development policies in place, including for sharing of experience and expertise with agencies such as the International Organization for Migration and the World Food Programme.
The "Convention Plus" initiative had led to desirable outcomes thus far, he noted. It was to be hoped that the initiative's aims would be realized successfully, with the international community's full cooperation. The UNHCR should also seek continuously to strengthen its operations to respond to asylum-seekers. Also welcoming efforts to develop a framework for strengthened implementation of the "4Rs" of repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction as well as development assistance for refugees and development through local integration, he stressed the need to address the protection needs of refugee women and children.
Regarding financing, he stressed that improvement of the UNHCR's financial basis and budgetary predictability should receive due attention. Sufficient funding, together with enhanced results-based planning and management, would have a positive effect in fulfilling the Office's unique mandate. His country hoped to continue to increase its financial contribution in years to come.
ANDREA HOCH (Liechtenstein) said security issues were emerging as one of the major challenges to humanitarian operations and made it increasingly difficult for humanitarian personnel to adequately protect and assist refugees and internally displaced persons. The United Nations and other humanitarian personnel had been increasingly at risk, and the rising number of casualties among humanitarian staff operating in conflict and post-conflict areas was alarming. Difficult security conditions denied access to people in need, and direct threats against the lives of humanitarian personnel made it increasingly difficult for the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons.
She said universally agreed principles of international humanitarian and human rights law were simply neglected by Government forces and by the increasing number of non-state actors involved in armed conflicts. Groups involved in armed conflicts must be held accountable to internationally agreed standards, and the primary responsibility for that lay with Governments. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations relied on government cooperation and support. Ending impunity and bringing to justice those responsible for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law was one of the major preconditions for a successful return and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons.
PAIMANEH HASTEH (Iran) said her country had hosted a huge number of refugees and displaced persons during the last twenty-five years. As a developing country, this had placed heavy pressure upon Iran, which had shouldered the responsibility in the absence of adequate international assistance. However, significant development, including political changes in Afghanistan, had occurred in recent years and the Afghan refugee situation had been placed upon the right track towards voluntary repatriation. More than one million Afghan refugees had returned home, and the number of refugees returning to Afghanistan was also expected to increase next year, following the recent presidential election.
However, she noted, more than 1.2 million Afghan refugees and displaced persons continued to require international assistance in Iran. Realizing the return of all Afghan refugees and displaced persons and ensuring the durability of their return by successfully rehabilitating and reintegrating them required a comprehensive approach to address their essential needs, in particular those of shelter and secure livelihood. Moreover, the focus on voluntary repatriation should not overshadow her country's need for continued international assistance to care for those remaining in Iran.
On the situation of Iraqi refugees in Iran, she noted that while many such refugees had spontaneously repatriated last year, assisted voluntary repatriation through a well-managed voluntary repatriation operation remained an urgent necessity. Overall, the present global refugee situation required an effective and equitable mechanism for international burden-sharing.
GILBERT LAURIN (Canada) said his delegation was pleased to note the large number of repatriation movements in 2004. However, major challenges remained in the areas of human rights, security, and armed conflict, which continued to lead to situations of mass refugee influx and to threaten the durability of returns. Crises such as those in Darfur and Haiti made it more urgent for States to improve the means at their disposal to prevent the conflicts that created refugee flows. States hosting refugees must also intensify protection efforts and respect the principle of non-refoulement.
He said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) too must continue to strengthen its capacity to respond to emergencies and to fulfil its role in relation to refugee protection. Collaborative efforts between the UNHCR and various agencies, both within and outside the United Nations, were essential. Canada supported the UNHCR's efforts to improve its management and responsibility structures. It was time for the UNHCR to review its management to ensure it was structured in such a way that enabled it to achieve the objectives set out in its policies.
He said for its part Canada would continue to strive to ensure that its contributions were timely and met refugees' needs. Canada strongly condemned the attacks on refugees and humanitarian workers. The insecurity faced by refugees in camps in Chad and Burundi demonstrated the need to preserve the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum and to adopt a comprehensive approach to refugee protection.
MILOS PRICA (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said his country had been associated with promotion of a "New International Humanitarian Order" for many years. There was no doubt, given the prevailing situation in many countries around the world, that the need for such an order was greater than ever. The work of the Third Committee was not intended to replace the existing body of international law and practice, but to adjust it to new challenges. In that regard, there was a need for all Member States to contribute to determining the contents of an "agenda for humanitarian action".
Despite efforts to promote peace and prosperity, he continued, the number of victims of armed conflict continued to increase, as did the number of poor and deprived people worldwide. Violations of human rights also continued around the globe. The people of his own country had suffered much in the past decade, yet had learned many lessons on how to improve the overall situation and build for a common future. A number of issues required urgent attention, he concluded, including the situation of internally displaced persons, minority rights and the rights of women, children and older persons.
ANDREY NIKIFOROV (Russian Federation) said international cooperation was critical in efforts for peace and security. The Convention of 1951 and its Protocol of 1967 were key treaties for the protection of refugees, who were deprived of their rights in international conflicts. There were a large number of tensions throughout the world, and an optimal way to resolve the problems of refugees was to respect fundamental principles of international law and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States. His delegation advocated increased cooperation with the United Nations in counteracting new threats.
He said that, as a result of the process of globalization, greater numbers of people were leaving developing countries and seeking asylum in developed countries. Of particular concern was the abuse of asylum by international criminal groups who always sought new ways to develop their businesses. Illegal immigration had many consequences, including political extremism. There was a critical need to increase international and regional cooperation with respect to migration problems.
His delegation believed internally displaced persons should continue to be the concern of States themselves, he continued. The Russian Federation advocated limiting the UNHCR mandate with respect to internally displaced persons as this could have a negative impact on the agency's mandate, given its limited finances. His Government supported the efforts of the UNHCR to increase the effectiveness of the organization under strict control of expenditure.
CLAUDIA PEREZ ALVAREZ (Cuba) acknowledged the UNHCR's strict adherence to its mandate, as well as the lack of politicization of that mandate. However, the agency continued to undergo a financial crisis, at the same time that the number of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide continued to rise. The bulk of the agency's resources had been earmarked for specific situations, with fewer resources allocated for less publicized, but equally grave, protracted refugee situations.
Massive, mixed flows of refugees and internally displaced persons continued to be seen, she added, due to the chronic poverty and underdevelopment, which constituted the legacy of colonialism, as well as due to international conflict. Only through strict adherence to international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter would durable solutions be found to rectify the situation of refugees and end those massive mixed flows. Thus, Cuba joined in the appeal to various States and international organizations to abide by the principles laid down by the UNHCR and international law. Donor countries should step up resources for refugees, and they should be made unconditional. The needs of refugees and internally displaced persons must not be held hostage to the preferences of donors.
Cuba continued to support the Palestinian refugees, she said, who continued to be denied a State to which to return. For its own part, her country -- - which remained a small country whose material potential had been hampered by the genocidal economic and commercial blockade imposed against it -- - had a long-standing tradition of taking in refugees. Hundreds of Latin American and Caribbean brothers had been taken in after fleeing dictatorships, and Cuba had provided them disinterested humanitarian aid. Those influxes had largely been addressed with Cuban resources; however, in some situations the country had sought assistance from the UNHCR. Cuba remained ready to continue its cooperation with the UNHCR to help refugees anywhere in the world.
RACHEL GROUX (Switzerland) said the decision to refocus the work of the UNHCR on its protection mandate had been welcomed by her country, which had reiterated the need for such a strengthening of the protection mandate for many years. However, in terms of the assignment of budgetary resources and the management of human resources, Switzerland felt that the protection mandate continued to be treated as a secondary issue. It should be noted that, while assistance undoubtedly constituted a form of protection, it should complement protection, not replace it. Her country thus encouraged UNHCR to further reinforce its protection mandate.
Regarding the security of personnel, she expressed appreciation for improvements in security of personnel in the field and said that ensuring their security must remain a priority for the international community. Thus, the Swiss Government continued to endorse all measures taken by the UNHCR to improve the security of its staff and was pleased to announce that Swiss authorities had worked with the agency to improve security at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva. The cost was to be shouldered by Switzerland.
ABDELOUAHAB OSMANE (Algeria) said there was no denying that Africa remained the continent most affected by refugee issues. Thus, his country had always supported the search for lasting solutions, including voluntary repatriation and reintegration, and recognized new development in the UNHCR's procedures for the "4Rs" and for development assistance for refugees. Algeria also supported the implementation of partnership between the UNHCR and national Governments and held it necessary to address the underlying causes of displacement and exile. Moreover, assistance measures remained indispensable and should be strengthened to eradicate the causes of displacement.
Financially, moral principles should guide joint action to find lasting solutions to refugee issues, he affirmed. His country fully endorsed the priorities stressed by the High Commissioner, including the need to find solutions to protracted refugee situations, to ensure the sustainability of those solutions and to share responsibility with host countries. The African continent, he added, continued to provide an example of the uneven treatment of humanitarian crises and donor fatigue. African refugees remained disadvantaged in comparison to other refugees. All refugees should be treated with dignity, and on an equal footing. There must be no "a la carte" humanitarianism.
His country had recognized the demands placed upon it in the humanitarian sphere as soon as it had achieved sovereignty, he said. The Algerian tradition of hospitality had been extended to the refugees of Western Sahara. However, the fate of the refugees housed in the Tindouf camps continued to depend entirely on implementation of the United Nations peace plan for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. That plan remained the only acceptable basis to reconcile this crisis, which had already lasted more than thirty years.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) said that though the problem of refugees was one of the oldest global challenges there was still a pressing need for the international community to formulate effective strategies for avoiding mass forced displacement of populations. The large-scale humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan was a sad reminder of the urgency of this task. The tragedy in the Burundi camps demonstrated heightened security risks to refugees, and Ukraine supported the steps taken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to strengthen partnership with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to define their appropriate roles in preventing such attacks against refugees in the future.
His delegation wished to express its gratitude to the UNHCR office in the Ukraine, which had worked closely with his Government in implementing existing refugee legislation. Due to these collaborative efforts, more than 2,500, mostly from Afghanistan had been granted official refugee status in Ukraine. Assistance and integration programs for refugees and asylum seekers had been launched. For Ukraine, one of its migration policy priorities was the return of Crimean Tatars and their settlement in their native lands.
He said his delegation greatly appreciated the assistance received from the UNHCR in developing refugee status determination hubs in regions with the highest number of asylum seekers and refugees. He commended the UNHCR's effective measures aimed at raising donor support for asylum system development in Ukraine. His delegation looked forward to future cooperation with the UNHCR in the sphere of structural reform of the Ukrainian migration service. It would also appreciate continued assistance from the agency towards enhancing the effectiveness of the current programmes and strengthening cooperation between government institutions and local NGOs in addressing the problems of refugees, asylum seekers and the internally displaced persons.
GALIB ISRAFILOV (Azerbaijan) said the problem of forced displacement was one of the worst tragedies faced by humanity. His own country had faced just such a situation for many years, and he wished to share Azerbaijan's experiences regarding the emergency and development phases of that situation. Although it was difficult to determine an exact date, he noted, the transition from the emergency phase of the refugee situation to the development phase remained closely linked to the failure of the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Reaffirming that the eventual solution of the issue remained dependent upon the liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and negotiation of a final solution to the conflict, he said the emergency phase of the situation had been characterized by international reaction to the occupation. The Security Council had adopted four resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and implementation of provisions for the return of refugees and displaced persons. Thus, consecutive years of negotiations at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had brought the two parties to an agreement to settle the conflict, liberate the territories and ensure the return of those displaced. However, upon the President of Armenia's acceptance of the deal, he had been forced to resign by hardline elements in his country. This demonstrated that Armenia's territorial ambitions continued to exits.
The lack of any perspective for return of the refugees had triggered donor fatigue and forced a number of international organizations to leave the country, he noted, signalling the end to the emergency phase. In response, the Government of Azerbaijan had done its best to expand humanitarian programmes to assist uprooted people. Programmes based on rehabilitation and reconstruction of war-affected areas, temporary establishment of refugees and internally displaced persons and income generating activities had been implemented. However, inadequate support and international assistance had necessitated the allocation of significant national resources to such assistance activities, which had negatively affected the economy's ability to transition.
Azerbaijan continued to try to overcome the difficult challenge of reconciling hopes for a peaceful solution to the conflict and the return of refugees with the need to ensure a decent and dignified life for those displaced, he said. However, while his country had expected the international community to focus on violations of international humanitarian law in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, it had instead been blamed for using the refugees as pawns - -- an accusation that was rejected entirely. For such reasons, a General Assembly debate on the situation had been requested.
RASHID ALVI (India) said it was important for the development agenda to underpin international efforts to prevent the creation of refugees, and address their needs for relief and rehabilitation. The UNHCR's mission must be based on the principle of burden sharing. The success of the agency in achieving the goals of the Agenda for Protection depended on its ability to work in close cooperation with the States concerned. Given that the bulk of refugee flows occurred in developing countries, voluntary repatriation suggested itself as the most viable durable solution. The international community must provide the requisite sustained support to ensure the reintegration of those who had returned to their countries of origin, as pointed out in the report of the High Commissioner for Refugees.
His delegation believed that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should maintain its focus on refugees, which were the first charge on its mandate. Internally displaced persons were first and foremost the responsibility of Member States. The UNHCR's role in situations involving internally displaced persons should be on the basis of explicit requests by the MemberState concerned.
MUHAMMAD ANSHOR (Indonesia) said his country welcomed the worldwide decline in the number of refugees and other persons of concern to the UNHCR. That decline was due to important initiatives related to the "4Rs", among others, as well as to the "Convention Plus" initiative. He also welcomed the activities of the UNHCR, in partnership with the Government of Indonesia, to facilitate the repatriation of some 252,000 refugees from East Nusa Tenggara (West Timor) back to Timor-Leste in 2002-2003. Further efforts continued to resettle those who had chosen to remain in Indonesia. That prompt action had enabled his country and Timor-Leste to avoid the potentially destabilizing political and social problems that frequently accompanied long-standing refugee situations in other parts of the world.
The cause of the refugee problem had largely derived from the unilateral imposition of an unfavourable security status in the region by the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD) in 2000, he stressed. The United Nations bodies and agencies with resources adequate to redress the situation had been constrained from acting. Although UNSECOORD had later changed the security status of the region, it should never have been set at phase five in the first place. Now, the crisis stage was over, however, the UNHCR and other international assistance remained beneficial to the integration of those still displaced, and for the transition to development. Indonesia therefore urged the Secretary-General further to rectify the security rating to enable the United Nations agencies more freely to distribute assistance to the needy.
JUDITH MTAWALI (United Republic of Tanzania) said the refugee situation in many African countries was characterized by large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons and new emerging refugee situations. The projected budget for Africa for 2005 was the largest in recent years, but it was still insufficient to meet the ever-growing needs.
She said her Government strictly abided by the principle of non-refoulement. Tanzania continued to provide asylum to 609,429 refugees, which included the 1972 refugees from Burundi and those refugees who had arrived between 1993 and 2004. The old caseload had lost the attention of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the international community. Her Government urged the international community to assist in the repatriation of refugees who would opt to be repatriated.
She said her delegation noted with concern the dwindling funds for humanitarian emergencies and protracted situations in Africa. The burden of looking after refugees should be shared by the international community. There had been drastic cuts in food assistance for the refugee population of Tanzania, and she appealed to the donor community to honour its commitments to sustain food assistance for refugees.
S. SHAHID HUSAIN, of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said it had been encouraging to hear of the intense peace process activity in 2003 to seek durable solutions to refugee problems confronting the countries of Africa. That had resulted in a decline in the number of refugees in 2004. Additionally, other positive political developments had raised hope for further voluntary repatriation in protracted refugee situations. However, impediments continued to exist regarding refugees' enjoyment of basic rights such as physical security, environmental degradation and food insecurity, among others. Thus, the Conference shared the view that conflict prevention, early warning and conflict resolution required multidimensional and regional approaches, as well as international support. Globally, he added, the number of refugees and other persons of concern for the UNHCR had also declined.
The Conference remained ready to play a proactive role in assisting Governments to foster policies and programmes for resolving conflict, he stressed, and to establish an environment of durable peace in the world. At the thirty-first session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, and at the tenth session of the Islamic Summit Conference, Conference members had been called upon to make every effort to prevent conflicts, which could generate exoduses of refugees. It had been decided to convene a Ministerial Conference on the issue of refugees, in coordination with the UNHCR. Reiterating the plight of refugees from occupied Palestinian and Arab territories, as well as in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, he stressed the continued need for the international community to undertake efforts to de-escalate tensions in those regions and to secure the peoples' inalienable national rights, including the right to return.
ZEID RA'AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (Jordan) said the plight of refugees represented a major challenge to the international community due to the profound impact it had on host countries, in particular those hosting large numbers of refugees for long periods. His delegation strongly believed that more coordination and cooperation among the UNHCR and other relevant agencies would help States to take concrete measures and develop mechanisms to achieve more effective and sustainable resolutions to various issues relating to refugees and other persons of concern.
Despite the 15 resolutions on refugees adopted by the General Assembly and the collective efforts of the international community, it was regrettable that the number of victims of humanitarian problems and armed conflicts continued to increase. It was therefore critical to develop an "Agenda for Humanitarian Action" that would include elements responding to new challenges that had arisen in recent years. Jordan was keen on the adoption of a resolution that would further strengthen the efforts of the Secretary-General to proceed with the elaboration of the proposed agenda.
Introduction of Draft Resolutions on Human Rights
Beginning its afternoon meeting, the Committee heard introductions of a number of draft resolutions related to human rights, including presentation of a draft on Equitable geographical distribution in the membership of the human rights treaty bodies (document A/C.3/59/L.32) by the representative of Cuba. She said the draft defended the principle of geographical distribution on an equitable basis, as well as the principles of gender balance and cultural, economic, political and social diversity. States parties to human rights treaty bodies were encouraged to take specific measures, including possible establishment of a quota system, to ensure the primary objective of achieving an equitable geographical balance on those treaty bodies.
Introducing the draft on The right to development (document A/C.3/59/L.37), the representative of Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled that the right to development had been reaffirmed as an integral component of human rights in the Vienna Declaration. Welcoming the establishment of the high-level Task Force of the Working Group on the right to development, the draft called on both the Working Group and the Task Force to contribute actively to the 2005 high-level event to facilitate streamlining of right to development in policy-making at national, regional and international levels.
On the draft on Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of
human rights (document A/C.3/59/L.39), he said it reaffirmed the importance of enhancing international cooperation in field of human rights as a necessary prerequisite to fulfilment of the purposes of the United Nations.
On the draft on Human rights and unilateral coercive measures (document A/C.3/59/L.40), he noted that, despite recommendations adopted by the General Assembly, unilateral actions contrary to international law and the United Nations Charter continued to be pursued and implemented by some States. These had led to negative consequences and posed obstacles to the full enjoyment of human rights by people of affected States. Moreover, the situation of children in some countries had been affected by such unilateral coercive measures. The draft called on States to refrain from such measures and to abide by the principles of the Charter and international human rights and humanitarian law.
Regarding the draft related to Human rights and terrorism (document A/C.3/59/L.52), the representative of the Russian Federation stressed that terrorism constituted a basic threat to the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels at the present time. The collective response to the threat of terrorism must be carried out by all States, without exception. Any attempt to remove oneself from that effort would only benefit the terrorists. The international community must act as a single front against those sowing fear and suffering and attacking the fundamental right to life. It was to be hoped that the draft would be adopted, both by the Committee and the General Assembly, without a vote, which would signal that terrorism could not be justified for any reason.
Before its introduction, the Committee was informed that Switzerland had erroneously been included in the list of co-sponsors of the draft on human rights and terrorism.
Concerning the text on Regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights (document A/C.3/59/L.56), the representative of Belgium said the fundamental role played by regional arrangements in the promotion and protection of human rights had been reaffirmed at the Vienna World Conference. The importance of cooperation between the United Nations and regional arrangements had also been underscored there. The present draft sought to illustrate the considerable efforts that had been devoted to improved promotion and protection of human rights and should be adopted without a vote.
On the text related to Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (document A/C.3/59/L.57), the representative of Finland, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said the draft highlighted, for the first time in this forum, the important role to be played by the Special Rapporteur in the United Nations efforts to address genocide. As in previous years, the core of the draft reflected the demand for all Governments to take measures to bring to an end all incidences of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. She also announced that Senegal had withdrawn as a co-sponsor of the draft.
Before its introduction, the Committee was informed that Thailand had erroneously been included in the list of co-sponsors of the draft on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
On the draft related to Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance (document A/C.3/59/L.59), the representative of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the draft expressed deep concern that serious instances of intolerance and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief continued to occur in many parts of the world. There was an urgent need for vigilance and action against such intolerance and violence against any member of any religious community. No religion or belief had been excluded from coverage under the terms of the draft.
Concerning the draft related to the Question of enforced or involuntary disappearances (document A/C.3/59/L.61), the representative of France said the phenomenon of enforced or involuntary disappearances was not exclusive to any one region, but occurred in all, especially in instances of armed conflict. The present draft had specific components related to compensation for victims and families of victims and to the conclusion of the work on the draft Declaration on enforced or involuntary disappearances. All should work together to put an end to this phenomenon, which constituted an insult to all mankind.
Regarding the draft on Enhancing the role of regional, subregional and other organizations and arrangements in promoting and consolidating democracy (document A/C.3/59/L.62), the representative of Romania said the time had come for those who embraced democratic values to engage once more to express solidarity and to support the role of regional and subregional organizations in promoting and consolidating democracy. The timing of this initiative, he added, reflected the Security Council's recent statement on the important role to be played by regional organizations in the prevention and management of conflict. Among new elements to the draft was an invitation to regional actors to cooperate with the focal point of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whose purpose remained promotion of guidance and assistance to requesting States.
On the text related to the Situation of human rights in Zimbabwe (document A/C.3/59/L.46), the representative of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union recognized Zimbabwe's past traditions of democratic debate and civil society activism, as well as the severe challenges faced in confronting issues related to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and inequitable distribution of land ownership. However, he remained concerned that conditions did not exist at present to hold free and fair elections. Additionally, restrictions of the freedom to operate without fear of harassment and intimidation remained a source of concern. The draft was intended to signal common concern about the current situation in Zimbabwe and to urge the Government to take all appropriate measures to ensure that free and fair elections could be held.
Commenting on the draft resolution just presented, the representative of Zimbabwe reiterated that the promotion and protection of human rights entailed cooperation between and among sovereign States. Unfortunately, as in this case, country-specific resolutions of human rights had been used to settle political scores. The present draft had nothing to do with the situation of human rights in his country. Instead, it epitomized the abuse of the human rights agenda for political purposes. Some of the co-sponsors of the present text had publicly declared that they were working to undermine the Government of Zimbabwe.
The text represented an attempt by the European Union to reclaim the privileges of its kith and kin, he said, in wake of the equitable redistribution of land that had occurred. Zimbabwe had been portrayed as a failed State, which it was not. The draft had been driven by a racist and colonial mindset that viewed African Governments as incapable of implementing their own commitments and sought to position the European Union as a monitor of agreements undertaken in the context of Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union. Such attempts should not be encouraged by the Committee, but should be defeated, as previous attempts to bring similar drafts before the Commission on Human Rights had been defeated.
The representative of Cuba said this constituted another example of selective condemnation of human rights situations in Third World countries. Those States, which had violated the principles of the Charter and of self-determination and who had allies that flagrantly violated human rights, had no right to criticize others. The very European colonial powers that had tolerated the hateful apartheid regime in South Africa and left behind the lamentable legacy of unfair distribution of land in Zimbabwe were the ones now setting themselves up as the judges of others. Such drafts contributed nothing to the human rights agenda. His delegation firmly opposed the document.
Introducing the text on the Situation of human rights in the Sudan (document A/C.3/59/L.48), the representative of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said he welcomed the leadership role played by the African Union in addressing the situation in Darfur, Sudan. The European Union remained gravely concerned at widespread human rights and humanitarian law violations and ongoing atrocities in Darfur, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, rape and other forms of sexual violence and forced displacement and disappearances, among others. The draft called upon the Government, and other parties to the conflict in Darfur, to stop such atrocities and to cooperate fully with the missions of the African Union and Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sudan. It addressed human rights and humanitarian issues in a comprehensive and balanced manner, while giving due attention to the peace talks in Nairobi and Abuja.
The representative of Moldova then requested that his country be deleted from the list of co-sponsors of the draft resolutions on Sudan, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. His country maintained its policy of supporting, but not sponsoring, country-specific draft resolutions.
The representative of the Sudan said her delegation remained opposed to country-specific draft resolutions as a matter of principle. They were politically motivated and lacked objectivity. She wished to ascribe to the statements made previously by the representatives of Zimbabwe and Cuba.
Introducing a draft on the Situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/C.3/59/L.49), the representative of Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the present draft had been streamlined considerably since last year and reflected the outcome of constructive consultations with interested delegations, including that of Myanmar. Welcoming certain positive developments in that country regarding discussions with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the access granted to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Union yet noted that there had been no improvement in the human rights situation in Myanmar. The draft called upon the Government of Myanmar to restore democracy and ensure that the next session of the National Convention was fully inclusive of all political parties and major ethnic nationalities.
Before the text's introduction, the Committee was informed that France had inadvertently been left off the list of co-sponsors of the draft on Myanmar.
Regarding the draft on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (document A/C.3/59/L.50), the representative of Canada recalled that a similar text had been adopted by the Committee at its last session, which had, among other provisions, called for a re-examination of the situation at the Committee's fifty-ninth session. Since last year, however, there had been a marked deterioration in the Government's performance in promoting and protecting the human rights of its population. Among encouraging developments, he noted the announcement of a ban on torture and the subsequent passage and approval of related legislation by the Parliament and Guardian Council. However, the General Assembly must address serious human rights violations in Iran, including regarding impediments to freedom of expression and opinion, unequal treatment of women and lack of compliance with international standards of justice. The present draft reflected the hope that concerted international attention would accelerate the constructive development of respect for human rights in Iran.
On the draft on the Situation of human rights in Turkmenistan (document A/C.3/59/L.53), the representative of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the draft reflected positive steps that had been taken. However, improvement on paper and good intentions did not alone suffice. The human rights situation on the ground continued to be characterized by a persistent Government policy of repression of all political opposition activities. The legal system continued to be abused through arbitrary detention, and there continued to be restrictions on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion and belief. The text also expressed concern about discrimination against ethnic Russian, Uzbek and other minorities. The Government of Turkmenistan was called upon to ensure full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms and to implement the two resolutions of the Commission on Human Rights.
Concerning the draft on the Situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document A/C.3/59/L.54), he welcomed measures taken by the transitional Government and the international community to re-establish stability and peace in a country emerging from a long and devastating war. However, he also expressed concern about ongoing violations of human rights, particularly in the east of the country. The transitional Government must do more to protect civilians and to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law. Ending impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations was also important. Calling upon the transitional Government to do its utmost comprehensively to reform its judicial system, he urged that the draft be adopted without a vote to express the international community's common concern, as well as its common support for the ongoing process.
Finally, introducing a draft on the Situation of democracy and human rights in the United States of America (document A/C.3/59/L.60), the representative of Belarus invited the General Assembly to express its deep concern at numerous violations of fundamental rights and freedoms in the United States. The United States continued to exempt itself from international human rights obligations domestically and globally, as exemplified by the arm-twisting of other countries to eliminate International Criminal Court jurisdiction over Americans. The international community should draw attention to the United States' failure, given its preoccupation with putting the affairs of other sovereign States in order, to ensure adequate protection of human rights at home. The present draft should be considered an action of last resort, taken in response to the draft resolution on Belarus initiated by the United States. It constituted, first and foremost, an appeal to common sense. The United States should not take the text lightly or indifferently. The most responsible way to exit from the mutual exchange of accusations was to withdraw the texts on both theUnited States and Belarus, as well as any other country-specific texts from consideration.
Statements on Refugees
MARIJA ANTONIJEVIC (Serbia and Montenegro) said Serbia and Montenegro had been providing shelter to the largest refugee population in Europe. There were currently about 400,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in her country. Her Government had undertaken outstanding efforts to find durable solutions to refugee problems. With international assistance a number of housing projects had been implemented along with self-reliance projects, including microcredits, in-kind grants and vocational training. There was still, however, a large part of the refugee population that needed further assistance. She called upon donors and development agencies to continue providing assistance to the most vulnerable groups of the refugee population.
She said there had been some encouraging developments related to the voluntary repatriation of refugees. A bilateral agreement on the protection of national minorities between his country and Croatia would be signed next week. Her Government believed the agreement would be conducive to an increased number of returnees. Further progress in resolving the refugee issues would boost the rapprochement between the countries concerned.
Regarding the situation of 260,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija, she said the prospects for further returns remained slim. Her delegation urged the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to reinvigorate its efforts to assure the safe and unimpeded return of all displaced persons as set out in the Security Council resolution 1244.
PHANTIPHA IAMSUDHA (Thailand) said durable solutions to the refugees or displaced persons situations would not be possible if the role of countries of origin was neglected. Voluntary repatriation continued to be the preferred durable solution. Thailand welcomed the increasing role of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Humanitarian assistance should be expanded to cover the infrastructure development necessary for the reintegration of displaced persons as well as the prevention of further outflows, particularly in border areas.
Regarding the Laotian Hmong caseloads in Thailand, she said her delegation wished to express appreciation for the UNHCR's role in facilitating the resettlement in the United States of 15,550 Laotian Hmongs from Thailand. The resettlement process had been showing good progress and expected to be completed on schedule in April 2005.
Thailand recognized the need to address the complexity of the migration/asylum nexus faced by host countries in confronting mixed flows, she added. It had seen the benefits of registration for migration management, having registered more than 1.3 million illegal workers this year, thus making them more accessible to protection.
YASOJA GUNESEKERA (Sri Lanka) said that since the signing of the ceasefire agreement in 2002, internally displaced persons continued to return to their homes. Sri Lankan refugees in India had also been returning spontaneously since the signing of the ceasefire agreement. The Government had undertaken a number of confidence-building measures, including the reopening of key access routes in the North. Grants were being offered to returning internally displaced persons and refugees to assist them in restarting a productive livelihood, and welfare centres had been set up to house families pending resettlement. Demining work had also been central to efforts in clearing land for resettlement.
She said Sri Lanka had been selected to take part in a pilot initiative designed by the United Nations to bridge the gap between relief and development in a post-conflict situation. It was one of five countries that would work with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank in the implementation of the 4Rs Concept -- - repatriation, reconciliation, recovery and reconstruction. She said countries like Sri Lanka, which were in the peace-building phase of conflict resolution, needed significant assistance to rebuild infrastructure and livelihoods. Internally displaced persons required sustained reintegration and development support if they were to be given a chance to restart their lives.
RAM BABU DHAKAL (Nepal) commended the work undertaken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and urged the international community to continue to give its support to the agency in its noble task of providing protection, care and humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced persons. In Nepal there were still thousands of Bhutanese refugees waiting for the opportunity to return home. Nepal was fully committed to finding a durable solution to this problem through bilateral negotiations. There was a need for greater political will to continue the bilateral process to pave the way for refugees to return home. It was now up to Bhutan to create a favourable environment for this purpose.
He said his delegation shared the concerns of the High Commissioner over the emerging causes for flows of migrants and asylum seekers. A collaborative approach and integrated missions might be useful in those situations where the United Nations peacekeeping operations were being carried out. For other situations, the UNHCR should consider measures after an analysis of root causes of the refugee problem.
He said the General Assembly should give careful consideration to strengthening the capacity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to carry out its mandates. Nepal reiterated its support for removing the time limit of the UNHCR so that the Office would be able to engage in sustained effort to find durable solutions through long-term planning.
FIDELIS IDOKO (Nigeria) said that while there had been a decline in the number of refugees in Africa, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) had risen in 2003, reflecting the consequences of armed conflicts. Africa bore the highest number of refugees and displaced persons in the world, and the incidence of refugees resulting from conflicts had always been a big strain on Africa's development. Nigeria called on the international community to support Africa's various peace processes, including its conflict prevention and sustainable development efforts.
He said an effective approach to the problem of refugees must address the root causes of forced population displacement. It was necessary to go beyond providing assistance to refugees and displaced persons, and to address the problems of governance, poverty, disease and injustice. A lasting solution should also aim at the reintegration of victims of forced displacement. Collaboration among the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations allowed for the opportunity to blend refugee repatriation programmes with post-conflict reconstruction.
P.R.O. OWADE (Kenya) said his delegation attached great importance to the issue of protection of refugees and in particular to the search for durable solutions. Kenya was currently hosting about 240,000 refugees. This figure did not include the thousands of refugees and other asylum seekers in urban areas who depended on the support of the local population for their livelihood. His country's experience demonstrated that when refugee protection, the interest of host communities and security priority competed for limited resources, it was the refugees who lost, as limited resources were directed towards addressing security concerns. The principle of burden-sharing made it imperative that the international community respond in a timely manner in providing assistance to host countries. His delegation also believed that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should adopt a needs-based rather than a resource-based budget.
He said Kenya had drafted a Comprehensive Refugee Bill, which would go a long way in building the required pillars for more effective protection of refugees. His delegation was convinced that the principle of non-refoulement should remain the cornerstone of any protection regime. No asylum seeker should ever be returned in conditions that would endanger his life or personal security.
Voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement were the three durable solutions to refugee situations. Every refugee or asylum seeker would prefer to return home. The international community must therefore redouble its efforts to create conducive conditions in refugee-producing countries to enable refugees to return under conditions of safety and dignity. He pointed out that the situation in Somalia would remain volatile for a long time and required resources which Somalia could not bear on its own. It was time for the international community to come to the assistance of Somalia. Kenya was being left with massive unpaid bills from the peace process, as donors had not kept their pledges.
BRIAN MAJEWSKI, representing the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the work done by its National Societies in support of refugees and displaced persons went beyond the reach of international organizations to people living outside camps and protection systems. He stressed the impact on communities and nations of the millions of people now regarded as "irregular", "undocumented" or "illegal". Those people were found in situations of extreme vulnerability and often entered the asylum-seeking process. It was important for their contribution to be properly recognized.
The IFRC welcomed the consultations being organized by the Global Commission on International Migrations. One of the preconditions for the solution of the so-called asylum seekers problem was the need for all governments to determine and enact coherent migration legislation.
Statements in Exercise of Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Armenia said Azerbaijan's earlier statement had sought to mislead the international community by misrepresenting the causes and consequences of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. His country had no aspirations to anyone else's territory. Azerbaijan's claim to territorial integrity was inaccurate as Nagorno-Karabakh had never constituted a part of Azerbaijan. The current situation remained the result of the Government's decision to unleash war against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, who had sought peacefully to exercise their right to self-determination.
The conflict had created refugees and internally displaced persons on both sides, he said. Moreover, the proposals of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) over the last ten years, including those rejected by Azerbaijan in the last six years, all contained specific references to obligations on both sides, as well as regarding the overall status of Karabakh. Azerbaijan's statement had been just another attempt to pick and choose among the components of the process; however, none could be isolated, as had been affirmed in 1996 at Lisbon. Attempting to find a solution to the conflict between the countries, without finding a solution to the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh had resulted in the resignation of Armenia's president. Furthermore, Azerbaijan's attempts to duplicate certain elements of the negotiating package at the United Nations and in other international forums was damaging to the OSCE process.
Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Morocco said the situation in the Sahara had been artificially kept alive in international forums. His country knew that the current Baker plan could not be used as the basis for a political solution to the Saharan crisis. Moreover, the first Baker plan had been rejected by Algeria, in spite of its approval by the Security Council and Morocco's willingness to implement it. The political solution lay ahead of the parties, he reaffirmed, not behind them. As to the refugees cited by Algeria, the claim was not tenable, as that country had refused to allow the High Commissioner for Refugees to proceed with the necessary impartiality, according to statutory requirements.
The representative of Azerbaijan said the statement made by the representative of Armenia was characterized by groundless accusations and distortions with regard to his country. He sought to bring clarity to the misleading and destructive rhetoric that saturated the Armenian representative's statement, especially regarding the myth that Nagorno Karabakh had never been part of Azerbaijan. Armenia had carried out an act of aggression into Azerbaijan.
There were unanimously adopted resolutions of the Security Council underlying the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, the belonging of Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan, demanding the withdrawal of the armed occupying forces, and the creation of conditions for the return of refugees, he said. By refusing to comply with the resolutions Armenia continued to challenge the will of the international community. It was high time for Armenia to understand that Azerbaijan would in no way compromise its territorial integrity no matter how actively Armenia tried to camouflage its annexation plan. All of Armenia's efforts contradicted Security Council resolutions, the Charter of the United Nations and international law and were therefore doomed to failure. No amount of distorted texts and diplomatic manoeuvres could alter that reality.
The representative of Algeria said that he wished to underscore that the question of the Saharawi people remained before the Fourth Committee as a decolonization issue. That question had not been created by his country. Instead, the Government of Morocco had realized that Spain should have organized a referendum for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, which was why they had proceeded against the Saharawi population. In 1974, the Spanish Government of General Franco had opened the way for Morocco's illegal occupation of the Western Sahara, which had led to a massive displacement of refugees into Algeria.
Rejecting all attempts to make of this issue of decolonization an issue of territorial dispute between the two countries of Morocco and Algeria, he noted that the Government of Morocco had signed an agreement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front). That agreement had provided for a referendum on the status of Western Sahara. It remained clear that Morocco's attempt to annex the Western Sahara had been rejected by, and had received no support from, every body of the United Nations.
Regarding the issue of the refugees, he said he had cited the same figure yesterday. The delegation of Morocco should properly have posed his question to the High Commissioner at that time. Algeria would continue to support the United Nations efforts for the exercise of the right of self-determination for the Saharawi people, in compliance with international law and the peace plan for the Western Sahara.
The representative of Armenia, exercising the right of reply for the second time, said that regarding the Security Council resolutions, the representative of Azerbaijan had made groundless allegations against her country. As specified in the resolutions, Armenia had used its good offices to find a lasting solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The representative of Morocco said that the debate created by the delegation of Algeria on the question of the Moroccan Sahara was unfortunate as Algeria insisted on politicizing a humanitarian question and using it to support his thesis. Algeria was a party to the regional conflict. The fact that the representative of Algeria was speaking about occupation showed that he was distorting historical fact. International law and concepts defined by the Geneva Convention of 1949 were linked to the concept of security and had nothing to do with the situation in the Moroccan Sahara.
The representative of Algeria was deliberately omitting all reference to Security Council resolution 1570 adopted on the 7 October last, he said. It asked parties to come out of the deadlock and to make progress towards the solution of the Saharan conflict. Morocco was asking for a census of people in the camp. Algeria was a party to this conflict. Several censuses had been made, and recommendations had been put forward. Algeria as a host country had prime responsibility to ensure that humanitarian conditions in the camp were not undermined and that the repatriation did not have to be linked to political considerations.
Speaking again in exercise of his right of reply, the representative of Algeria noted that Morocco continued to defend the indefensible. He invited Morocco to take note that it could not change history or international law, much less geography.