Press Conference on Upcoming United Nations Annual Treaty Event

16 September 2011

Press Conference on Upcoming United Nations Annual Treaty Event

16 September 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Upcoming United Nations Annual Treaty Event


The United Nations, as part of its ongoing effort to bolster international law and strengthen the rule of law, will host its annual treaty event from 20 to 22 September and 26 to 27 September on the margins of the General Assembly’s general debate, top legal officers said today at a Headquarters press conference.

“The treaty event provides an opportunity for States to demonstrate their commitment to the central role of rule of law at the international and national levels,” said Gabriele Goettsche-Wanli, Chief of the Treaty Section, United Nations Office of Legal Affairs.

She said the event, which is entitled “Towards universal participation and implementation”, would highlight 64 treaties, including five new agreements adopted in 2010, such as the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as the Multilateral Agreement for the Establishment of an International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries.

The event, she said, would also place particular emphasis on the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees — which is the key legal document defining refugees as well as their rights and States’ legal obligations to them — and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness — which provides a legal framework for the prevention and reduction of statelessness as well as the protection of stateless persons.  This year marks the sixtieth and fiftieth anniversaries, respectively, of those two instruments.

Joining Ms. Goettsche-Wanli this afternoon was Udo Janz, Director and Special Adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  He said that each of those conventions was considered a “stepchild” of the international treaty system.  Only 66 States were party to the Convention on refugees, while 38 were party to the Convention concerning statelessness.  “We hope that will change significantly by the end of the year,” he said, stressing that statelessness was “one of the most under-scrutinized human rights phenomena in the world today”.

To that end, he noted that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had launched a campaign to combat statelessness on 25 August.  UNHCR estimated there were 12 million stateless people — many of them children — around the world.  It hoped that the momentum created by heightened public scrutiny of the issue would boost accession commitments head of a ministerial meeting scheduled for December 2011 in Geneva.

Acknowledging that statelessness remained a sensitive issue with few statistics, he stressed that it often affected groups of people rather than individuals and frequently came to the fore in situations of State dissolution, such as the former Soviet Union or former Yugoslavia.  Typically, it was difficult to organize any kind of programmatic assistance since stateless people were often invisible and living in legal limbo.  Nonetheless, the battle had increasingly shifted, not just towards advocacy, but to the provision of concrete legal assistance to allow stateless individuals to obtain necessary documentation.

Asked how the Palestinians fit into that picture, Mr. Janz pointed out that a specific United Nations agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), addressed their situation.  Palestinians fell under the ambit of the High Commissioner only when they sought help farther a field.

He said, in response to a question about the budget of UNHCR, that its Executive Committee had four “firewalled” pillars that delineated funds for refugee assistance; statelessness issues; support for internally displaced persons; and the reintegration of refugees who had returned home.  The overall budget total amounted to $3 billion for the current biennium.  Only 1.2 per cent of the regular United Nations budget went to UNHCR.  The rest was based on voluntary contributions with an increasing portion coming from the private sector, he added.

Responding to a question on the rules that would apply if the Palestinians received status as an Observer State for accession to the Rome Statute, Ms. Goettsche-Wanli highlighted the Summary of Practice of the Secretary-General as Depositary of Multilateral Treaties (document ST/LEG/7/Rev.1).  As the depositary, the Secretary-General first looked at a treaty’s final clause, which might differ among treaties.  For example, some instruments were only for United Nations Member States while others were for Member States and members of specialized agencies.

She further noted that, according to paragraphs 81 to 83 of the Summary of Practice, the Secretary-General would follow the practice of the General Assembly in cases where the status of an entity was not clear and a treaty was open to “any State” or “all States”.  The practice of the General Assembly was reflected in its resolutions, she added.

Responding to a question on the legal process of population transfer, particularly with respect to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Mr. Janz said those Baltic States, as members of the European Union, were party to the European Convention on Nationality, which complemented the international treaty system and further addressed the situation of specific Russians living in those former states of the Soviet Union.

He added that UNHCR was engaged with all three of the Baltic States, where the laws sometimes provided for rights akin to citizenship but stopped short of full citizenship.  At the same time, many Russians had subsequently become citizens.  There was often tension, however, between Governments, which said the onus of citizenship was on the individuals and individuals, who argued it was up to the Governments to modify their citizenship requirements.  Pointing to progress in accommodating the ethnic Russians in all three Baltic States, he said the number of outstanding cases was dwindling.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.