10 November 1998


10 November 1998

Press Release


19981110 Council Members Raise Questions on Kosovo, Central Africa, Provision of Assistance in Conflict, Effectiveness of Existing Security

The safety and security of humanitarian workers and the people they protected could only be guaranteed by broader political efforts, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata told the Security Council this morning.

During a Council session conducted under an innovative format, Mrs. Ogata first briefed the Council, then addressed questions raised by Council members on a wide range of issues, including the provision of humanitarian assistance to refugees during conflicts, particularly in Central Africa and Kosovo.

The number and intensity of conflicts was increasing, forcing more and more civilians to flee, and that slowed and sometimes blocked solutions, Mrs. Ogata said. The increasingly blurred line between war and peace -- and the need to reach out to victims of forced displacement across those lines -- made the protection of refugees and returnees more complex than ever.

In Kosovo, she continued, international efforts had contained the conflict, defined minimum conditions to restore security for civilians and established a framework to verify compliance. The international mechanism in Kosovo, if fully implemented, might be a "model framework" for addressing the problems of human displacement.

In Africa, she said, the solutions to refugee problems there had been blocked by a trend to increased violence against civilians, a strong ethnic component in some conflicts, particularly in the Great Lakes region, and a regionalization of military action. Solutions must include a strong regional approach and also address the issue of forced population movements. A peace framework for Central Africa should ensure priority for ethnic and nationality problems, as well as the disarmament and demobilization of ex-combatants.

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The High Commissioner said there must a more concrete focus on the relation between security problems and humanitarian situations. In the past, the UNHCR and its partners had faced intractable situations alone. She did not want that to happen again. Mechanisms must be established with well-defined activation procedures, as predictability was crucial for any effective security mechanism, she added.

The relationship between justice and amnesty, the human cost of military action, and the efficiency and effectiveness of existing security mechanisms were among the other topics raised by Council members during the discussion.

The representatives of the Russian Federation, Brazil, China, Sweden, Japan, Portugal, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Gambia, United Kingdom, Slovenia, Kenya, France and Gabon made statements and posed questions to the High Commissioner.

Council Work Programme

The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, who is also expected to respond to questions from Council members.

Statement by High Commissioner

SADAKO OGATA, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that, unfortunately, the number and intensity of conflicts forcing civilians to flee were increasing, which slowed and sometimes blocked solutions to refugee problems. Even when political settlements were reached, the peace was often fragile. The increasingly blurred line between war and peace made the protection more complex than ever.

She said that in Kosovo, while international efforts could not prevent a major refugee crisis, they had, in the last few weeks, at least contained the conflict, defined minimum conditions to restore the security of civilians and established a framework aimed at verifying compliance with such conditions. That had encouraged almost all people displaced in Kosovo to return, although they often found their homes looted and destroyed. It was vital that staff in the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission and then the Kosovo Verification Mission be deployed to the most critical locations, as soon as possible. Monitoring the security and treatment of civilians must not be limited to returnees, but should apply to all those affected by the conflict. Legal guarantees were also needed. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was promoting the adoption of an amnesty, to provide an element of confidence.

She said the UNHCR had a established close liaison with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its verifiers, and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) air verification mission. As a humanitarian agency, UNHCR's role was distinct from that of the verifiers, who had a political mission. The UNHCR was also taking part in the training of verifiers. The international mechanism in Kosovo, if fully implemented, might be a "model framework" for addressing the problems of human displacement.

However, she added, decisive international involvement was not the norm today. Where there were insufficient or ineffective peace efforts, the ability of humanitarian agencies to help refugees, returnees and other victims was greatly diminished. For example, in Afghanistan, or southern Sudan, it was difficult to address immediate humanitarian problems caused by actual population displacement, let alone help prevent fresh population movements.

Africa provided the most dramatic example of that problem, she continued. Factors there that had contributed to blocking solutions to refugee problems included: a trend to increased violence against civilians, of which the mutilations and killings by rebels in Sierra Leone were the most horrifying;

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and a strong ethnic component in some conflicts, particularly in the Great Lakes region. There was also a regionalization of military action. The trends were very evident in Central and West Africa.

Given the complex, interrelated nature of the problems, solutions must have a strong regional approach and address the issue of forced population movements, she continued. The efforts of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to stop the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must receive stronger support and encouragement. Forced population movements had plagued the region for decades and had been one of the causes of insecurity in recent years. A peace framework for Central Africa should ensure that ethnic and nationality problems were given priority. If ethnic tensions were allowed to simmer, massive numbers of people might again flee. The disarmament and demobilization of ex-combatants must also be addressed.

Ms. Ogata went on to outline areas that needed attention. She said the complexity of war and fragility of peace in many parts of the world meant net outflows of refugees or movements of displaced persons could happen at any time. She was extremely concerned by the possibility of renewed conflict in the Horn of Africa or in Central Asia. When the Council discussed ongoing conflicts, it should not overlook the humanitarian displacement factor, which was often an effect, but also a cause of conflict.

She said there must also be a more concrete focus on the insecurity affecting humanitarian operations as a whole -- of refugees or returnees, of communities hosting or receiving them, as well as international and national staff assisting them. The problem was a real threat to peace and security. The preferred approach was to develop a "ladder" of options that ranged from the "soft" option of providing training and support to build national law enforcement capacity, to "medium" alternatives of deploying international civilian or police monitors, to the "hard" international peacekeeping solution. The preference was, however, for subregional arrangements. The UNHCR and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had developed a set of proposals to that end.

She hoped the Council's continued interest would turn proposals into concrete solutions, she said. The UNHCR was already applying the soft options in Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania. Medium options and subregional peacekeeping might be the most viable solutions in many situations, but they required government support and active involvement. In the past, the UNHCR and its partners had faced intractable situations alone, and she did not want that to happen again. Mechanisms must be established soon, with well-defined procedures to activate them. Predictability was crucial to the effectiveness of any security mechanism.

More attention must be given to post-conflict situations, she said. Refugee returns, which might be necessary to peace-building, often complicated it, as seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

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and Rwanda. When peace was negotiated, more attention must be paid to creating conditions for the peaceful coexistence of divided communities. Rehabilitation and reconciliation activities were a fundamental element of peace-building and must be planned sooner.

Bosnia and Herzegovina demonstrated that reconciliation was also a political process, she said. International resolve to promote minority returns was an essential component to the peace agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio, and should not be weakened by parallel efforts in Kosovo. A significant number of minority returns must occur in 1999. The greatest challenge in returning refugees in fragile peace situations was ensuring that peaceful coexistence was accepted by divided communities living together again, rather than being forced on them.


SERGEY LAVROV (Russian Federation) reaffirmed that his Government was working to ensure the release of Vincent Cochetel, the head of the UNHCR office in Vladikavkaz, Russian Federation. He hoped the question would be resolved in the near future.

He said the problems of displaced persons and refugees in Kosovo should not cause members to forget about the problems of refugees in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. He encouraged the UNHCR to speed up the process of the return of minorities. What was the situation in rending international assistance to those territories where there continued to be hundreds of thousands of refugees? he asked.

He said there had been some support expressed for the idea that there were grounds for unilateral armed intervention in countries with humanitarian crises, and that such action did not need Council approval. That was, however, unacceptable and against international law. What would be the humanitarian consequences of such ideas and, if carried out, how would they affect the operation of humanitarian agencies? he asked.

CELSO L.N. AMORIM (Brazil) said that although the UNHCR formally placed its work under the directives of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, the Council had looked into refugee problems with a peace and security dimension. When the Council became involved in international efforts to obtain access for assistance to refugees in conflict, it should show a preference for solutions arrived at through peaceful means.

In situations that were not at the crisis level, could further confidence- building measures be established, he asked? Could the UNHCR work with other agencies to build a cultural peace to tackle the basic problems, so that they would not resurface in the in the future? In Africa, he said, support to the UNHCR from other agencies was crucial.

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QIN HUASUN (China) said the massive flow of refugees was a serious factor in the instability of Africa and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The immediate problems and the root causes must be settled. The cause of regional conflicts and humanitarian crises should be looked into at a deeper level, but care should be taken not to politicize the question of refugees. The terrorist forces in some regions, in search of political gain, obstructed the return of refugees and that must be clearly understood by the international community. The UNHCR and other agencies had done a great deal of work under difficult and dangerous circumstances.

HANS DAHLGREN (Sweden) said the Council had devoted increasing attention to refugees in a thematic manner. The members were negotiating a resolution that hopefully would make the Council and other parts of the organization better able to deal with security concerns. How could the gap be breached between the traditional mandate of the UNHCR and the Council's responsibility? he asked. Was there a need for new mechanisms or for better use of the ones already available?

YUKIO SATOH (Japan) said that the problem of refugees, especially in Africa, was not only the result, but a significant cause of armed conflicts. The refugee issue had profound implications for the maintenance of international peace and security and, as such, was the subject that required constant Council attention.

He said the humanitarian situation in Kosovo had improved, but there remained tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons. The need for international assistance was great and ongoing. Could the High Commissioner recommend any specific action to enhance the security and neutrality of refugee camps? he asked. Also, the question of staff protection needed more robust attention. In protecting the staff, the organization could also work towards protecting other people. What suggestions did the High Commissioner have for a way to rouse political support for regional efforts in Africa? he asked.

ANTONIO MONTEIRO (Portugal) asked what could the Organization do to give consistent political support to cases other than Kosovo? Regarding the problems of refugees and displaced persons in Africa, was something concrete being done to stem the flow of arms?

He said that, whatever was done, the most important thing was that human rights were observed and respected. In the context of soft, medium and hard options, did the High Commissioner recommend medium options? he asked. He supported the use of a rapid deployment force. Was the UNHCR preparing something for the new phase in Guinea-Bissau? With regard to the return of internal refugees, coordination was very important. He asked what was the UNHCR doing to guarantee that such crisis situations did not happen again.

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JASSIM MOHAMMED BUALLAY (Bahrain) said the actions of humanitarian agencies were no less important than the refugees themselves. Was there no way for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance safely? he asked. Was there sufficient protection for humanitarian agencies and was that formalized legally? Were there any existing legal safeguards for humanitarian agencies and were they actually realized in practice?

MELVIN SAENZ BIOLLEY (Costa Rica) said he hoped today's meeting would be a precedent for agencies briefing the Council. He attached great importance to gathering political support and pressure necessary for solving conflicts that impaired international peace and security, and concentrating on some items to the detriment of others was unacceptable. In Kosovo, the possibility of amnesty should be considered, as well as other concrete actions to ensure respect for the rule of law. It was important, however, that measures not be used to perpetuate impunity.

The people in refugee camps, he said, particularly in the regions of Africa affected by armed conflicts, suffered real threats. What was the High Commissioner's impression of those situations and the effectiveness of measures to guarantee the separation of civilians and combatants? he asked. What were her views of broadening or expanding the multifaceted aspect of peacekeeping operations?

BABOUCARR-BLAISE I. JAGNE (Gambia) said peace was gradually being restored to West Africa, but the support of the international community was needed. He hoped the international community would heed the appeal.

JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom) said that in managing crises, whether they be humanitarian, political or security, a reliable flow of information was vital. He appreciated the amount of information available on the Great Lakes region and he hoped more could be made available on West Africa. He asked for more information on the lessons that had been learned by the UNHCR and if they could be applied elsewhere. On the former Yugoslavia, he asked if the High Commissioner was satisfied with security arrangements. What was her assessment of minority returns to Bosnia and Herzegovina?

DANILO TURK (Slovenia) said the tendency to substitute political action for humanitarian assistance was still a problem. The concept of cooperation between governments and the UNHCR was of particular importance, and had many applications. At the preventive stage of a humanitarian crisis, the role of the Council was indispensable. There were situations where resolute political action was the most important part of cooperation in order to ensure the implementation of resolutions and to stop attacks on civilians. Such action could happen within the mandate of the United Nations.

Regrading the situation in the Great Lakes region, he said the cooperation among Burundi, Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania had been

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moderately successful. He asked for Mrs. Ogata's views on that cooperation.

NJUGUNA M. MAHUGU (Kenya) said the nature of conflict had changed, with innocent civilians and humanitarian personnel increasingly becoming the target, as warring parties sought deliberately to use attacks for political and military objectives. In addition, in recent years the alarming phenomenon of armed elements in refugee camps had emerged. In those situations, there was a culture of impunity that the international community needed to address.

In Kosovo, for example, civilians had become the target of the conflict there, with more than 200,000 persons displaced at the height of the conflict, he said. An estimated 50,000 persons had been forced from their homes into the woods and mountains. In addition, the humanitarian organizations had been unable to deliver assistance to those needy people, because of the insecurity caused by the nature of the conflict.

He said that, given Africa's limited resources, the international community should share the burden in such areas as appropriate capacity- building activities, training and advisory services to accelerate the implementation of legislation relating to refugees. He asked if the UNHCR had any current programmes for assisting host countries to deal with the increase in crime and insecurity occasioned by the influx of refugees. Further, regarding the presence of armed elements in refugee camps, what measures were being taken to ensure that bona fide refugees were protected and that the assistance meant for them did not benefit armed elements?

ALAIN DEJAMMET (France) said the kidnapping of Vincent Cochetel, the head of the UNHCR office in Vladikavkaz, Russian Federation, had demonstrated the dangers faced every day by UNHCR staff and also emphasized the seriousness of protecting humanitarian staff in situations of conflict. He asked whether the arrangements being planned and implemented in Kosovo to protect UNHCR staff were appropriate to prevent incidents such as the one that led to Mr. Chochetal's kidnapping. Would the UNHCR also be able to facilitate the return of refugees and their integration?

Turning to the situation in the Great Lakes region of Africa, he asked whether the High Commissioner believed the failure to activate the mission for Kivu in 1996 had been a good or bad decision? How would the UNHCR now play a role in Kivu where there was a great number of refugees? When a political settlement was lacking, to what extent was the UNHCR a hostage to the Council's inability to settle substantive issues? Was it possible for the UNHCR to get involved in facilitating reconciliation among refugees in the Great Lakes region of Africa? Were emergency plans for refugees in the Middle East still valid?

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DENIS D. REWAKA (Gabon) asked Mrs. Ogata about the status of plans to hold a conference on the refugee situation in Africa, similar to the one held in 1991 to address the refugee situation in Central America and the one held in 1996 to deal with the situation in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

He said the problems in Africa were complex, but most refugee flows were the result of internal conflicts and, to some extent, of inter-State conflicts. Perhaps international action, such as a Great Lakes conference, could examine the implications of refugee flows. The resolution of those problems and conflicts was the central question. Those with the means must address the suffering of displaced people and refugees, particularly women and children. Their inability to take part in such basic activities as attending school and agricultural production was having a very negative impact.

High Commissioner's Response

Mrs. OGATA then replied to the questions asked by Security Council members. She said the modalilities of military intervention were up to the Security Council and the political leaders of the countries concerned. However, she would like Council members to take into account the human costs and consequences when deciding on military intervention. There were always human costs, she added.

Regarding questions about comprehensive approaches to refugee problems, she said there must be better preventive measures. Such measures would have prevented the type of prolonged displacement that occurred in the Great Lakes region of Africa, where armed elements were mixed in with the refugees in the camps. Despite its efforts, the UNHCR had not been able to prevent that situation. The neutrality of camps must be maintained and the separation of different elements was a good starting point. The countries of the Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) were examining the situation. If people in the camps had been separated earlier, some of the conflicts in the region might have been ameliorated.

In reply to questions about the sufficiency and effectiveness of existing mechanisms, she said currently there were only ad hoc arrangements. There were, however, comprehensive and innovative approaches in Central America that could serve as an example. The situations in Sudan and Afghanistan had been going on for 25 and 20 years respectively.

In Africa, she said the UNHCR had taken part in a mission to Kivu, headed by the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator. The tens of thousands of displaced persons could become refugees if they crossed borders. Active humanitarian assistance was necessary. Other issues, such as ethnicity, nationality and the flow of arms, were all contributing factors to that situation.

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Referring to the question by the representative of France about the failure to activate an multinational force for Kivu in 1996, she said the UNHCR had been enormously disappointed because the loss of many lives could have been prevented.

The UNHCR could not return people to ideal conditions, she continued, but it could help them survive so that they could later make appropriate decisions about their future. Other humanitarian organizations and the UNHCR were trying to focus attention on the realities -- the fragility of peace and the suffering of people.

In response to questions by the representative of Gabon about conferences on refugees, she said the one on Central America in 1991 and another on the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1996 had focused on a number of questions, including the strengthening of legal protections, the management of populations and the provision of emergency aid to countries. At the May conference in Kampala, Uganda, ministers from eight countries had recognized the importance of respect for refugees who might not be a menace to national security. Fragile peace could be reinforced if appropriate investment and attention was given to the countries involved.

It was important to recognize that in internal, post-conflict situations today, unlike in the past, peace was not a certainty, she continued. Education, community-building activities and cooperation with development agencies were needed. The humanitarian and development agencies must work together. Resource flows could not be handed over to governments until they were ready to handle the situation. Many post-conflict situations that UNHCR dealt with had security ramifications. Conferences were one way to raise support for Africa, although she did not know if there could be a second conference like the one in Kampala.

In response to questions about amnesty versus justice, the High Commissioner said justice had to be put in order, but, in some instances, such as for those who had evaded the draft, amnesty was appropriate. In Kosovo, those who fled should be given amnesty if they returned. The UNHCR was coordinating the situation with human rights observers in the field.

On the tripartite mechanism in the United Republic of Tanzania, Mrs. Ogata said it had been useful in promoting the return of Burundian refugees to their country, although it had not helped solve the deepened state of suspicion in the region. To help enhance local security in Kenya and in Tanzania, the UNHCR had provided communication equipment and accommodations to the 278 police controlling the camps. Further training would also be provided.

She said she was happier about the situation in Kosovo, than she was three weeks ago. People were beginning to return to their homes and they

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would stay if the houses were winterized and the police did not harass them. Most people had returned to their villages. An estimated 20,000 houses would need to be rebuilt or repaired. A village by village survey would assess what needed to be done.

She said she feared the situation in Kosovo might draw attention away from the needs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other parts of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. International will would have to be mobilized and a determined political and administrative effort by local government would be needed to meet the target of 120,000 returns. It must be emphasized that reconciliation could be achieved over time, but it could not be enforced.

Finally, in response to a question about security for humanitarian staff, she said resolutions and treaties to protect staff were needed. However, on the ground, staff had to protect themselves. They had to negotiate with local authorities to get through checkpoints, as they had done in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Zaire, and would do in Kosovo. The Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel was waiting further ratification and that should be done quickly. She hoped there would be other strong resolutions to protect humanitarian workers.

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For information media. Not an official record.