9 September 2016
Seventieth General Assembly, 116th Meeting (AM)

Paving the Way towards High-Level Summit for Refugees, Migrants, General Assembly Transmits New York Declaration to Upcoming Session

The General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution today deciding to transmit the “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants” to its seventy-first session, paving the way for its adoption by Heads of State and Government at the 19 September United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants.

The declaration — annexed to a resolution (document A/70/L.61) titled “Draft outcome document of the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants” — was one of five consensus texts adopted on various development-related topics.  Submitted by the Assembly President, it includes two appendixes that lay the groundwork for two global compacts — on refugees and migrants respectively — to be adopted in 2018. 

“The genuine loss and pain these people are suffering should be unbearable for all of us,” General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark) said before the adoption.  It was frustrating that in a global economy worth more than $77 trillion, “somehow, we have not been able to fill a $10.2 billion humanitarian funding gap,” he said.  It was equally frustrating that the international community had not been able to end the disgraceful attacks on civilians at the root of much of today’s displacement.

He said the 19 September meeting would build on the World Humanitarian Summit, held in Istanbul in May, and other efforts, to bring about a more just, equitable response.  “We must ensure that large movements of refugees and migrants continue to receive our focus and engagement,” he said, and not allow the commitment to the most vulnerable to weaken.

After the adoption, a number of delegations outlined their concerns about the text and aspirations for alleviating the plight of millions around the world.

The European Union’s representative was pleased to see that responsibility sharing had been reflected in the outcome document.  In paragraph 33, the detention of children should be used only as a measure of last resort and in full respect for children’s rights.  The European Union was committed to promoting the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their status, and upholding mainstream labour standards.  Minimum labour standards did not carry responsibilities to provide residence to irregular migrants, she said.  In paragraphs 42 and 58, the references to State obligations to readmit nationals were essential and any interpretation must be in line with paragraph 35 of resolution 68/141 (2013).  She welcomed wording on enhanced cooperation on return and readmission, which was conducive for creating new legal avenues for migration.

The Russian Federation’s delegate said agreement on the outcome, without disseminating the final version, did not harm established United Nations practices, and thus, his Government insisted on its adherence.  Any formulation of the outcome document could not contravene the principles of humanity, neutrality, objectivity and independence, nor violate States’ sovereignty or territorial integrity.  Interference, destabilization and forceful removal of Governments had led to a collapse in nationhood, civil war and terrorism.  States participating in such interference must be responsible for providing aid to migrants.  None of the provisions, including in shared responsibility, had created additional financial or legal obligations, especially as related to relocating refugees. 

Lebanon’s delegate said equitable burden and responsibility sharing were indispensable for meeting the needs of migrants and refugees, which could be provided best through humanitarian and development assistance to host countries and United Nations entities operating at the country level.  The goal should be the return of migrants and refugees.  Lebanon respected the principle of non-refoulement, in line with international refugee law.  If refugees decided to return before political solutions were found, they should be able to do so without impediments.  Lebanon was not in a position to accept the integration, naturalization or permanent resettlement of refugees.  He said he hoped States would recommit to the principles to equitable burden and responsibility sharing.

Mexico’s delegate regretted that some aspects of the Declaration were not strong enough.  While he welcomed those on border controls, more recent Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions must continue to inform future discussions.  He reaffirmed General Comment 6 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and Recommendation 79, on the need to identify a lasting solution for the protection of unaccompanied children.  Punitive detention of minors due to their parents’ migratory situation violated their rights.  He advocated working with civil society to ensure that children had access to education and social support, expressing hope see a stronger commitment.  He repeated Mexico’s offer to host preparations ahead of the 2018 international conference for the adoption of a global compact on safe migration.

Japan’s delegate regretted to say that the Declaration focused only on cross-border movements and could not shed light on those that had been displaced.  He welcomed that the Declaration stressed the importance of improving the self-reliance and resilience of host countries, advocating support for them through burden and responsibility sharing.  He expressed concern that States had not yet been informed about the extra-budgetary implications of the high-level meeting.  While he understood that additional resource requirements would be subject to further negotiations, more information could have been communicated informally to States.  He expected that the costs would be reduced and absorbed in the biennium budget for 2016-2017 and that those issues would be discussed in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).

Israel’s representative said his Government recognized the need for a coordinated international response and the central role that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees could play in finding durable solutions.  The outcome document did not establish or recognize any new legal rights or obligations.  It recognized that each refugee and migrant situation was different and should be addressed with attention to its specific circumstances, with a view to adopting solutions that responded to the particular political context.

Cuba’s delegate said the Declaration should have taken up the causes of the migrant situation.  Those contributing to armed conflict must shoulder the burden regarding refugees.  The Declaration should have considered the negative impacts of the “brain drain” related to disorderly migration and condemned the use of selective and discriminatory policies, which fostered unorganized migration and irregular flows.  It also should have mentioned the Cuban Adjustment Act and application of the “dry feet, wet feet policy”, which encouraged irregular immigration from Cuba to the United States and violated existing migration agreements between those countries.

Nepal’s delegate said her country understood the urgency of addressing issues around refugees and migrants.  Developing countries hosting refugees should be considered in light of their capacity to do so, as the commitments expected from them might not be feasible.  The resources required were great.  Mobilizing resources at the cost of aid to least developed countries would unwittingly increase the number of refugees.  Migrants and refugees were distinct and should be treated as such.  Any provision that downplayed that reality could make the text’s implementation unrealistic.  The utmost efforts should be taken to ensure their basic rights.  To seek the same from a vulnerable host country would be theoretical.  National circumstances should also be considered.  The aim must be to reach consensus that would stand the test of time.  Those causing refugee and migrant flows should be responsible for those populations.  While Nepal was not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it supported refugees within its capacity and always had respected the principle of non-refoulement.  Those wishing to return could not be forced to accept host country citizenship or to resettle.

Speaking in explanation of position after action, the United States’ delegate welcomed the reinsertion of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General into the draft outcome document, noting that her Government nonetheless had concerns about the substantive changes made to the text.

Bangladesh’s delegate welcomed the reinsertion of the name of the Special Representative into the text and expressed support for the Declaration.

In other action, the Assembly adopted a resolution (document A/70/L.64), submitted by the Assembly President, deciding to convene the United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development) at United Nations Headquarters from 5 to 9 June 2017.  Co-hosted by Fiji and Sweden, its overarching theme would be “Oceans, our future:  Partnering for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14”, with eight plenary meetings, seven partnership dialogues and a special event commemorating World Oceans Day on 8 June 2017.

The Secretariat representative said the resolution would not give rise to any financial implications under the programme budget for the biennium 2016-2017.

Speaking after the text’s adoption, Venezuela’s delegate said his Government was not party to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, nor the Fish Stocks Agreement.  The Convention should not be the sole legal framework for the oceans, nor could it be called universal.  Venezuela had reservations to Goal 14(c) of the Sustainable Development Goals.  An update to the terms of the 1982 Convention should be considered, as it must tackle the most important issues in a balanced, equitable and inclusive manner.

Fiji’s delegate thanked States for their positive spirit of engagement during consultations, adding that the conference would be game-changing for the world’s oceans, helping to reverse their decline.

The Assembly also adopted a resolution on “Consolidating gains and accelerating efforts to control and eliminate malaria in developing countries, particularly in Africa, by 2030” (document A/70/62), urging the international community to work towards increased, harmonized and predictable bilateral and multilateral assistance and research to combat malaria.  Introducing the text, Abdallah Bachar Bong (Chad) said it had been revised for technical reasons.  It was critical that countries invest in research and development and strengthen health-care systems.

By a resolution on “Tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife” (document A/70/L.63), the Assembly invited its President, in cooperation with the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, to hold on 3 March 2017 a high-level thematic discussion on the global observance of World Wildlife Day.  Introducing the text, Herald Braun (Germany) said the global illegal wildlife trade was valued at around $19 billion annually.  If poaching numbers continued to increase, elephants and other species might face global extinction in a few years.  He urged enhanced efforts within and among stakeholders, including source, transit and destination countries, and tackling both demand and supply.

A Secretariat representative said the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to present updated information on the global status of illicit wildlife trafficking and implementation of the resolution.  The resolution would not give rise to any programme budget implications.

The United Kingdom’s representative, speaking after the adoption, expressed concern about the increasing scale of poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and called for global action.  He expressed the United Kingdom’s readiness to support regional and international efforts.

The Assembly then adopted a final resolution on “Strengthening the role of mediation in the peaceful settlement of disputes, conflict prevention and resolution” (document A/70/L.65), deciding to consider the topic during its seventy-second session.  Presenting the text, Kai Sauer (Finland) said it sought to strengthen the role of mediation in line with key findings and recommendations of the recent review processes.  The text recognized the role of regional and subregional organizations and noted that institutional and operational partnerships between stakeholders must be enhanced.  It was essential that mediation had sufficient capacities, funding, support functions and strategic thinking.

Armenia’s representative, speaking after the adoption, said “mediation could and should play a critical role at all stages of conflicts and disputes”.  He regretted the persistence of an uncompromising position on the selective reference to the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter.  He did not agree to the limitation imposed on the self-determination of people.  As the text lacked the minimum degree of agreement, he disassociated himself from the consensus.

Ukraine’s delegate said his country continued to suffer from aggression from the Russian Federation.  Acknowledging the role of mediation in settling disputes, he said the United Nations must play a more active role and he advocated further action regarding mediation and its good offices.

The representative of Argentina described multilateralism as key for ensuring international peace and security.  The Charter had given a special role to the Secretary-General in terms of good offices and mediation.  However, he also recalled the need for State consent to peaceful dispute settlement.

In other business, the Assembly took note that Erik Solheim (Norway) had taken up his duties as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for a term of four years, beginning on 27 June 2016 and ending 26 June 2020.

Also today, the Assembly decided to include a number of items and sub-items on the agenda of its seventy-first session:  sub-item (a) of agenda item 34 — “Prevention of armed conflict”; item 36 — “Zone of peace and cooperation of the South Atlantic”; item 40 — “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”; item 41 — “Question of the Comorian island of Mayotte”; item 43 — “The situation in Central America: Progress in fashioning a region of peace, freedom, democracy and development”; item 44 — “Question of Cyprus”; item 45 — “Armed aggression against the Democratic Republic of the Congo”; item 46 – “Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)”; item 47 — “The situation of democracy and human rights in Haiti”; item 48 — “Armed Israeli aggression against the Iraqi nuclear installations and its grave consequences for the established international system concerning the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and international peace and security”; item 49 – “Consequences of the Iraqi occupation of and aggression against Kuwait”.

The Assembly decided to defer item 119 on “Implementation of the resolutions of the United Nations”.  It deferred a decision on whether to include item 130 — “Global awareness of the tragedies of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean basin, with specific emphasis on Syrian asylum seekers”. 

In a general statement, Syria’s representative recalled his Government’s objection to including item 130 in the agenda of the seventieth session.  The focus on the Mediterranean basin had only political motives.  Elimination of the problem required global efforts and certain countries must stop supporting and funding terrorism in his country.  While expressing appreciation to those countries that were hosting Syrians, he rejected all attempts to use Syrians as a tool in political elections.  The item’s consideration made it clear that political blackmailing against Syria continued, he said.

The representatives of Iran and Venezuela said they would not support the decision to include the item in the agenda of the seventy-first session.

Turkey’s representative said the 19 September summit would mark an important milestone in global efforts.  Turkey was determined to continue its cooperation, advocacy and humanitarian policies in ensuring safe, orderly and regular migration and increasing the burden and responsibility sharing for refugees and their hosts.  “This has never been Turkey’s agenda item per se,” he said, noting that it was the collective interest until a meaningful change took place. 

The representatives of the United States, France, Qatar, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and the Netherlands supported the decision to include the item.

In final business, the President announced that the following representatives had been elected chairpersons of five of the six Main Committees:  Sabri Boukadoum (Algeria) for the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security); Dian Triansyah (Indonesia) for the Second Committee (Economic and Financial); María Emma Mejía Vélez (Colombia) for the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural); Vladimir Drobnjak (Croatia) for the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization); and Danny Danon (Israel) for the Sixth Committee (Legal).  The Chairperson for the Fifth Committee would be elected at the Committee’s first meeting.

Also speaking today was the representative of Ireland in a point of order.

The representative of the Russian Federation spoke in exercise of the right of reply on resolution “L.65”, condemning the approach of his Ukrainian counterpart, who he said did not focus on implementation of the Minsk Agreement.

The General Assembly will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.

For information media. Not an official record.