QUICK ACTION NECESSARY TO ADDRESS NEEDS OF INCREASING NUMBERS OF REFUGEES, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD

20 November 2001
GA/SHC/3669

QUICK ACTION NECESSARY TO ADDRESS NEEDS OF INCREASING NUMBERS OF REFUGEES, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD

20/11/2001
Press ReleaseGA/SHC/3669

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Third Committee

45th Meeting (AM)

QUICK ACTION NECESSARY TO ADDRESS NEEDS OF INCREASING NUMBERS

OF REFUGEES, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD

Delegates Introduce 12 Draft Resolutions

On Refugees, Human Rights, Children’s Rights

The growing number of persons forced to leave their homes, particularly women and children, often under very stressful conditions, highlighted the need for the international community to act quickly, several delegations told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) this morning as the panel continued with its examination of issues relating to the refugees of the world.

The representative of Yemen, noting that his country had been close to hotbeds of tension and conflict for decades, said his Government opened its doors to countless people fleeing dangerous situations.  His Government provided shelter and care for the refugees, establishing a national office to address issues relating to their protection and care.  But high numbers of refugees also translated into a costly problem for governments, which were saddled with extra costs of providing social and economic benefits to them.  The international community, led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, had to lead the way in assisting host countries that were struggling to afford the increased burden.

Suffering, speakers said, would only increase as the numbers of conflicts grew throughout the world.  It was up to global partners to take immediate action.

The international community's record in sharing that burden with the countries of first asylum had not been exemplary, according to the representative of Australia.  Last year, Australia resettled 41 refugees for every 100,000 Australians, whereas the United States resettled 29 per 100,000 and Sweden resettled 20 per 100,000.

The delegate from Thailand said his nation was a traditional country of first asylum.  Because of that, his Government fully understood the plight of refugees and displaced persons, as well as the heavy responsibility borne by the host countries.  Thailand had been providing temporary shelter and assistance to more than 108,000 displaced persons along its western border, and nearly a million illegal foreign workers on its soil.

Also participating in the debate were the representatives of Mexico and Guinea (on behalf of West African States).

The representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) also spoke.

Earlier in the meeting, the Committee considered a number of draft resolutions on items related to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the protection and promotion of the rights of children and human rights questions, including the implementation of human rights instruments.

The representatives of New Zealand, Belgium, Denmark, South Africa (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and China) and Iran, respectively, introduced drafts on enlargement of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; the rights of the child; torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; human rights and unilateral coercive measures; enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights; the right to development; and human rights and cultural diversity.

The delegation of Cuba introduced five resolutions, including texts on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; the respect for the purposes and principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations to achieve international cooperation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and in solving international problems of a humanitarian character; strengthening United Nations action in the field of human rights through the promotion of international cooperation and the importance of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity; respect for principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States in electoral processes as an important element for the promotion and protection of human rights; and the right to food.

The Committee will reconvene this afternoon at 3:30 p.m., to continue its consideration of matters related to refugees, returnees and displaced persons.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of questions related to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions.

It was also expected to hear the introduction of 12 draft resolutions on items related to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), promotion and protection of the rights of children, and human rights questions.

The representative of New Zealand introduced a draft resolution on enlargement of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/C.3/56/L.39), by which the Assembly would decide to increase the number of members of the Executive Committee from 57

to 61 States.

A draft resolution on the rights of the child (document A/C.3/56/L.28/Rev.1) was expected to be introduced by the representative of Belgium.  By that text the Assembly would welcome the convening of the Second World Congress against Commercial Exploitation of Children, at Yokohama, Japan, from 17 to 20 December. 

The representative of Denmark introduced a draft resolution on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (document A/C.3/56/L.34), by which the Assembly urges States parties to comply strictly with their obligations under the Convention, including their obligation to submit reports in accordance with article 19, in view of the high number of reports not submitted, and invites States parties to incorporate a gender perspective and information concerning children and juveniles when submitting reports to the Committee against Torture.

The following draft resolutions on items related to human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, were introduced by the representative of South Africa, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and China.

By a draft text on human rights and unilateral coercive measures (document A/C.3/56/L.41), the Assembly would urge all States to refrain from adopting or implementing any unilateral measures not in accordance with international law and the Charter, which created obstacles to trade relations among States, thus impeding the full realization of the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.

By the terms of another draft resolution, on enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights (document A/C.3/56/L.42), the Assembly would call upon Member States, specialized agencies and intergovernmental organizations to continue to carry out a constructive dialogue and consultations for the enhancement of understanding and the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and encourage non-governmental organizations to contribute actively to this endeavour.

Under a draft resolution on the right to development (document A/C.3/56/L.43), the Assembly would request the independent expert to prepare, in consultation with all relevant United Nations agencies and the Bretton Woods institutions, a preliminary study on the impact of those issues on the enjoyment of human rights, starting by analysing the existing efforts and means of assessing and evaluating such an impact.

The following five draft texts on human rights questions under consideration this morning were expected to be introduced by the delegation of Cuba.

A draft resolution on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order (document A/C.3/56/L.44), would have the Assembly urge States to continue their efforts, through enhanced international cooperation, towards the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.

A draft resolution on international cooperation in promoting human rights and solving international humanitarian problems (document A/C.3/56/L.45), would have the Assembly stress the vital role of the work of the United Nations and regional arrangements, acting consistently with the Charter purposes and principles in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as in solving international problems of a humanitarian character. 

The Assembly would further affirm that all States involved in those activities must fully comply with the principles set forth in Article 2 of the Charter, in particular respecting the sovereign equality of all States and refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or acting in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

Under the terms of a draft resolution on strengthening United Nations human rights action through the promotion of international cooperation (document A/C.3/56/L.46), the Assembly would express its conviction that an unbiased and fair approach to human rights issues contributes to the promotion of international cooperation as well as to the effective promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

A draft resolution on respect for principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States in electoral processes (document A/C.3/56/L.47) would have the Assembly reaffirm the right of people to determine methods and to establish institutions regarding electoral process.  States should ensure the necessary mechanisms and means to facilitate full and effective popular participation in the process.

Further by that text, the Assembly would call upon all States to refrain from financing political parties or organizations in any other State in a way that is contrary to the principles of the Charter and undermines the legitimacy of its electoral process.

Under a resolution on the right to food (document A/C.3/56/L.48), the Assembly would encourage all States to take steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of that right, including steps to promote conditions for everyone to be free from hunger.  It would also urge States to give adequate priority in their development strategies and expenditures to the realization of the right to food.

The representative of Iran introduced the final draft resolution under consideration this morning, on human rights and cultural diversity (document A/C.3/56/L.49).  By that text, the Assembly would affirm the importance for all peoples and nations to hold, develop and preserve their cultural heritage and traditions in a national and international atmosphere of peace, tolerance and mutual respect.  The Assembly would urge all actors on the international scene to build an international order based on inclusion, justice, equality and equity, mutual understanding and promotion of and respect for cultural diversity and universal human rights, and to reject all doctrines of exclusion based on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Statements

MOHAMED AL-NAJAR (Yemen) said the tragedy of refugees in many world regions was unbearable.  The growing number of persons forced to leave their homes, particularly women and children, often under very stressful conditions, highlighted the need for the international community to act quickly.  Yemen had been close to hotbeds of tension and conflict and had been one of the first States to sign the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.  That country had also opened its doors to countless people fleeing conflict situations.  Subsequently, Yemen had also established a national office to address the issue of refugees, as well as camps to ensure their protection and care.

He went on to say, however, that the enormous number of refugees was a burden on the people and Government.  He appealed to the international community, the UNHCR and donor countries to assist in his country’s efforts to care for that population.  Suffering would only increase as the numbers grew, and it was up to global partners to take immediate action.  The situation of Palestinian refugees was also particularly troubling and deserving of immediate attention and comprehensive action.  It was imperative to ensure a return to normalcy and security in that region as well as the return of families to their homes.

MARIA ANTONIETA MONROY (Mexico) said Mexico's policy on asylum and refugee was based on the exercise of sovereignty, solidarity and international cooperation.  Mexico had ratified the Convention on the Status of Refugees and its Protocol, and the Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons.  The Mexican Commission on Aid to Refugees worked tirelessly on the situation of Guatemalan refugees in Mexico.  Over 70 per cent of the 40,000 in Mexico had opted for voluntary repatriation.

Her Government had defined its new agenda for asylum, she said.  The first aspect had to do with the integration of Guatemalan refugees, and the strengthening of support systems for all refugees.  Her Government was working to have a national structure that assured the protection of refugees.  Mexico's participation as a full member of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR opened a further stage in Mexico's relationship with that agency, and by extension, its relationship with refugees around the world.  Voluntary repatriation and full integration were part of the ideal solutions to the international problem.  It was also important to eradicate the root causes of asylum, which was done by addressing the economic and social situation of countries.  Human rights approaches to prevent discrimination were also important in the struggle to ensure the protection and rights of refugees.

She said global consultations had reaffirmed how important the 1951 Convention was.  The principle of non-return was a necessary provision in the protection of refugees.  Mexico participated in the three aspects that made up the Global Consultations.  Those had helped Mexico deal with its refugee problem, and Mexico's experiences had helped the international community in learning to deal with the refugee problem as well.

ZOUMANIGUI PAUL GOA (Guinea), on behalf of West African States, said despite the acknowledged decline in the number of refugees and asylum-seekers over the past year, that issue remained a serious concern.  The responsibilities of asylum countries must be the subject of careful consideration.  Also of concern was the lack of resources of the UNHCR.  He was pleased, however, that the agency had presented a unified budget for the first time this year.  His delegation would like to be informed of the results of the agency’s inspections in the region, so that any concerns could be addressed promptly and comprehensively.

He went on to say that the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the Optional Protocol thereto, had given way to an African Convention on refugees in 1969.  That had been fortuitous, as many regions on the Continent had faced many years of conflict, including West Africa.  The governments in that subregion had been involved in a quest for the solution to the conflicts and alleviating tensions which would in turn lead to positive initiatives to address the question of refugees.  The time had come, he said, to consolidate peace and security in the region -- that was the only way to solve the issue of refugees and ensure sustainable development.  Indeed, the solution to the problem of refugees lay in objectively identifying the causes of the conflict and eliminating its consequences. 

The international community must not confine its efforts to humanitarian concerns, he said.  It must also focus on development and the prevention of armed conflict.  The West African subregion faced a lack of resources and stability, which hindered efforts to find durable solutions to many lingering issues.  Therefore, the provision of adequate assistance must be increased.  The Convention remained the cornerstone for international protection of refugees.  Still, the issue of burden-sharing remained a concern.  His delegation was pleased with the efforts of the UNHCR to raise awareness of that and other issues, but the agency would require further support and assistance from all States in order to ensure that those efforts would continue.

APIRATH VIENRAVI (Thailand) said despite the relentless efforts by the international community, the world refugee situation remained worrisome and indeed had worsened in recent months.  Of particular concern was the situation in Afghanistan, whereby millions of people either had fled their homes and had become refugees in neighbouring countries, or had become internally displaced.  According to estimates by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 7.5 million people, both inside and outside Afghanistan, would be affected.  Thailand commended the UNHCR and various humanitarian agencies for providing the needed assistance to Afghan refugees and displaced persons.

While the international community should remain seized on the refugee situation in Afghanistan, it was important nonetheless not to be oblivious to the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in other parts of the world.  It was imperative that the UNHCR allocate its available resources in a balanced manner for the benefit of all regions.  Thailand believed the UNHCR should give more emphasis to the search for a long-term and durable solution to the problem of refugees and displaced persons.  While protection of refugees and displaced persons in countries of first asylum remained an important task of the UNHCR, as well as a preoccupation of the international community, questions regarding prevention, reintegration, resettlement and repatriation must also be addressed in tandem.

He said Thailand attached utmost importance to the durability of solutions to the problem of refugees and displaced persons, and not only because Thailand for decades had shouldered the responsibility of providing shelter to millions of refugees and displaced persons.  Thailand did so also because of its sheer belief in the promotion of human rights of those who had to flee their beloved homeland, and because of the compassion it felt towards fellow human beings.  Currently, Thailand had been providing temporary shelter and assistance to more than 108,000 displaced persons along its western border, not to mention nearly a million illegal foreign workers on its soil.  In that regard, his Government was pleased that Myanmar had agreed to address the issue of displaced persons at the next meeting of the Joint Commission for cooperation between the two countries in January.  It was hoped that that would be a significant step towards a joint undertaking to finding concrete solutions to the problem.

JOHN DAUTH (Australia) said the crisis in Afghanistan was the most recent reminder of the scale and complexity of forced people movements in the world.  Yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers noted that the movements of Afghan people, within and leaving their country, were already a major problem before the terrorist attacks on America on 11 September.  Just how the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan would be resolved was unclear.  What was clear, however, and had been clear for a long time now was the scale of the human misery in that unfortunate country.  The international community could not forget the nearly 4 million Afghans who had taken refuge in Pakistan, Iran and other countries.  The international community's record in sharing that burden with the countries of first asylum had not been exemplary.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the broader family of United Nations organizations had a vital role to play in ensuring that those who were displaced within Afghanistan and those who had fled received effective protection.

Mr. Dauth said the High Commissioner and his highly professional staff had demonstrated in recent years a great capacity to deal with a diversity of political, security, economic and humanitarian circumstances and to tailor their protection response to suit the occasion.  That was seen in Kosovo, where the stakes were high and the international focus was intense.  It was also seen in the UNHCR's response to the Great Lakes crisis.  In Australia's own region, the UNHCR's role in East Timor had assisted in the emergency of a new nation.  In all those cases, the circumstances had differed greatly, but there had been several common threads.  The first was that strong international cooperation in supporting the UNHCR's activities was crucial.  The second was the imperative to take purposeful action to demonstrate leadership in building a strategic response to the crises.  The UNHCR had done that and had managed in each instance to mobilize the support of donor countries to provide the resources to ensure sustainable solutions.

Australia, for its part, remained committed to the 1951 Refugees Convention and its Protocol, he said.  It continued to strongly support the High Commissioner in his work, and to back that support with generous funding.  Australia played its part as a major country of resettlement, and it would continue to do so.  As a point of comparison, last year Australia resettled 41 refugees for every 100,000 Australians, whereas the United States resettled 29 per 100,000 and Sweden resettled 20 per 100,000.  Regrettably, Australia had also been an increasingly attractive destination for illegal migrants, assisted by individuals and criminal syndicates engaged in the crime of people smuggling.  Many other countries -- as either transit or destination countries -- also faced that problem.  It was a phenomenon that undermined the integrity of the international protection system.  Overcoming it required not just a determined national response, but also concerted regional and multilateral action.  History had taught that humanitarian crises would continue to arise and that one sure aspect was that people would be forced to flee and seek refuge.  Australia stood ready as a responsible international citizen to assist the UNHCR in its mission of providing protection from harm and persecution to those who most needed it.

DONATO KINIGER-PASSIGLI, of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said two years ago, the ILO set up a new programme, the In Focus Programme on Crisis Response and Reconstruction (IFP/CRISIS), devoted to tackling the employment and related social and economic challenges of crisis.  The Programme drew upon the skills and the expertise available within the organization and its constituents in such areas as employment promotion, social protection, social dialogue and the Declaration on the Promotion of Fundamental Rights and Principles at Work.  It sought to address the problems of countries and territories facing the consequences of armed conflicts, natural disasters, rapid political and social transitions, and financial and economic downturns.  In carrying out those tasks, the ILO was actively extending support to, and building partnerships with, other United Nations and non-United Nations organizations working in the fields of relief, recovery, reconstruction and a return to development.  A central element in the ILO's crisis response was to facilitate the socio-economic reintegration of refugees and other crisis-affected people through the formulation and implementation of direct programmes of job creation, income generation and social integration.

The challenge of protecting and assisting refugees, displaced populations and vulnerable groups affected by crises worldwide could not be met unless the international community stopped thinking exclusively in terms of humanitarian assistance.  Relief was undoubtedly essential, but much more needed to be restored if the conditions for a decent life were going to emerge in war-torn societies, communities devastated by major political disasters, or countries shaken by economic downturn and socio-political upheavals. 

The ILO was taking up the challenge of bridging the gap between relief and long-term development and contributing to providing durable solutions, he said.  As those who had worked with them knew, refugees and internally displaced people, once their physical security and immediate food needs were met, demanded one thing most of all -- work.  Decent work, which conferred freedom, equity, dignity and security, was the aspiration of working people all over the world.  If the international community did not want refugees and vulnerable groups, particularly children, to become a burden on society, investment in their future was a must.  Work opportunities, not handouts, were needed to help refugees and internally displaced people to overcome their vulnerability.

Crisis situations were often marked by tensions and social and political instability, he said.  The enduring solution was to give refugees and internally displaced persons the opportunity to prepare for their eventual return or integration with the host community.  That was essential if they were to have dignity, self-respect and hope for the future.  The first step was to assess their profiles, including their existing skills and competencies.  Refugees and displaced people needed assistance in skill training geared to the labour market to which they might eventually return.  Women in particular could take advantage of their enforced sojourn in the camps to learn new skills, which they might not have been able to do under more normal conditions.

NILS KASTBERG, Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said the international community in recent years had witnessed some appalling violations of the rights of refugees, internally displaced persons and other civilians caught up in conflict.  Today's warfare often entailed horrific levels of violence and brutality, employing any and all means -- from systematic rape to the destruction of crops and the poisoning of wells to ethnic cleansing and outright genocide.  Combatants appeared to abandon all human standards, unleashing ferocious assaults against helpless children and their communities.  And children themselves could be drawn in as fighters, caught up in a general maelstrom in which they were not just targets of warfare, but even the perpetrators of atrocities.

He said ending impunity was a critical element of accountability without which vicious cycles of human rights violations against children would not be brought to an end.  The UNICEF called for violators of children's rights to be exempt from amnesties that could be part of peace agreements.  Those who violated children's rights must answer for what they had done.  However, it should be understood that accountability was not simply the spectacle of war criminals standing in the dock.  It must be more than that.  It must involve the creation of a political and social climate in which all those who violated children's rights or colluded in such violations must be made to feel the repugnance of civilized people everywhere.  They must be shamed, disgraced and made to answer for their actions.

He said UNICEF pledged to collaborate on the question of protracted refugee situations.  It was of critical importance to ensure strategic engagement by all relevant partners if effective solutions were to be found for the protracted refugee situations.  First, UNICEF was ready to support advocacy efforts with those responsible for political action to assume their responsibilities and find solutions.  Second, UNICEF was committed to engage in closer dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to explore how, in those situations, UNICEF could support and protect children and women and contribute to durable solutions.

Meeting basic needs was not enough, he said.  The international community needed to contribute to the development of individuals and the respect of all their human rights.  The international community could no longer afford to witness whole generations of children condemned to misery and hopelessness for lack of political solutions.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child -- the most widely ratified international covenant -- presented a unique opportunity for UNICEF and other organizations working to support refugee and internally displaced children, as it imposed obligations on governments to protect and support all children, including those who were refugees and internally displaced.

For information media. Not an official record.