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Note on the Introduction of Russian as an Official Language of the Executive Committee

Administrative and Financial Matters (SCAF), 31 August 1995


1. Following the election of the Russian Federation to membership of the Executive Committee by ECOSOC in May 1995,1 the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on 24 July 1995, concerning the introduction of Russian as an official language of the Executive Committee. The relevant extract from that letter is found in Annex.


2. Rule 28 of the Rules of Procedure of the Executive Committee (A/AC.96/187/Rev.4) states that "English and French shall be the official and working languages of the Committee, while Arabic, Chinese and Spanish shall be official languages".

3. In accordance with the rules 28 to 31 of the Rules of Procedure, the Executive Committee currently observes the following practice in terms of languages:

  • Interpretation at Executive Committee meetings is provided into the five official languages.
  • Official, pre-session documentation is made available in the official languages.2
  • Conference room papers and draft decisions are made available in the working languages.
  • Summary records are made available in English, French and Spanish.


4. Since the adoption of Arabic, Chinese and Spanish as official languages of the Executive Committee in 19843, Russian has been the only official United Nations language not included among the official languages of the Executive Committee. The question of the introduction of Russian as an Executive Committee language did not arise while there was no Russian-speaking Executive Committee member. With the election of the Russian Federation to Executive Committee membership in 1995, this situation has changed.

5. In parallel with this development in Executive Committee membership, problems of human displacement in the Russian Federation and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have made the region a major new focus of UNHCR activity and have drawn the CIS countries into close contact with both the Office and the Executive Committee.


6. The introduction of Russian as an official language of the Executive Committee has financial implications for both the United Nations regular budget and for UNHCR voluntary funds. Under existing arrangements, costs relating to the annual session of the Executive Committee are charged to the regular budget, while those relating to inter-sessional meetings are covered from voluntary funds.

7. The cost estimates set out below have been provided by the Conference Service of the United Nations Office at Geneva. The following points should be noted:

(i) The estimated cost to UNHCR voluntary funds is based on the servicing of eight days of inter-sessional meetings. Costs relate primarily to interpretation, as conference room papers for inter-sessional meetings are produced directly by UNHCR in English and French and are not translated into the other official languages.

(ii) The estimated costs to the regular budget are based on the translation of 1,200 pages of pre-sessional documentation into the official Executive Committee languages; 70 pages of in-session documentation and 200 pages of post session documentation, as well as the provision of interpretation into the official languages. However, with the new arrangements for the translations of country/area chapters adopted by the Executive Committee in June 1995, cost estimates relating to pre-sessional documentation should benefit from a reduction of the order of 20 per cent, depending on the actual level of translation requested by member Governments.

(Note: Statistical table not included in this online version. See your nearest UN Depository Library.)

Total 1,306,944 1,568,615 261,671

8. While estimated costs of the introduction of Russian to the regular budget are thus $ 261,671, the anticipated effect of new arrangements being introduced for the translation of country/area chapters should reduce this to some $220,000.

9. Combined costs to regular budget and voluntary funds are $ 281,395. With the anticipated reduction, they would amount to some $ 239,734.

10. The Executive Committee will need to decide whether it wishes to introduce Russian as one of its official languages. Should it favour this step, a decision adopted by the Committee would be transmitted to the General Assembly, additional costs to the regular budget being subject to the approval of the Fifth Committee. A draft Executive Committee decision is found in Annex II to this document.

Annex I Letter from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office at Geneva to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (extract)

"Dear Madam High Commissioner,

Taking note of rule 28 of the rules of Procedure of the Executive Committee (A/AC.96/187/Rev.4), I have the honour to request the inclusion of the Russian language among the official languages of the Executive Committee and its working bodies.

Attribution of an official status to the Russian language would make a significant contribution to the solution of multifaceted refugee problems in Russia and in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and facilitate the work of your representatives in all these countries.

I would like to ask you to bring this request the attention of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme.

A. Kolossovsky

Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva"

Annex II Draft Decision for Adoption by the Executive Committee

The Executive Committee,

Having considered the High Commissioner's Note on the Introduction of Russian as a Working Language of the Executive Committee (EC/SC.2/80),

1. Welcomes the election of the Russian Federation as a member of the Executive Committee;

2. Emphasizes the importance of Russian in facilitating the work of UNHCR, notably in the Commonwealth of Independent States;

3. Decides, subject to budgetary approval by the General Assembly, to introduce Russian as an official language of the Executive Committee;

4. Recommends to the General Assembly that the required budgetary appropriations be approved.

1 Decisions adopted by the Economic and Social Council at its Resumed Organizational Session for 1995 (E/1995/INF/4/Add.1, page 5).

2 With the exception of the "country/area chapters" which, as agreed at the special meeting of the Executive Committee held on 20 June 1995, are issued in the working languages (English and French) and, upon selective request by member delegations, in one or more of the other official languages (A/AC.96/843, para. 7 (j)).

3 Decision of the thirty-fourth session of the Executive Committee, A/39/12/Add.1, paras 183-185.




Stateless in Beirut

Since Lebanon was established as a country in the 1920s there has been a long-standing stateless population in the country.

There are three main causes for this: the exclusion of certain persons from the latest national census of 1932; legal gaps which deny nationality to some group of individuals; and administrative hurdles that prevent parents from providing proof of the right to citizenship of their newborn children.

Furthermore, a major reason why this situation continues is that under Lebanese law, Lebanese women cannot pass on their nationality to their children, only men can; meaning a child with a stateless father and a Lebanese mother will inherit their father's statelessness.

Although exact numbers are not known, it is generally accepted that many thousands of people lack a recognized nationality in Lebanon and the problem is growing due to the conflict in Syria. Over 50,000 Syrian children have been born in Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict and with over 1 million Syrian refugees in the country this number will increase.

Registering a birth in Lebanon is very complicated and for Syrian parents can include up to five separate administrative steps, including direct contact with the Syrian government. As the first step in establishing a legal identity, failure to properly register a child's birth puts him or her at risk of statelessness and could prevent them travelling with their parents back to Syria one day.

The consequences of being stateless are devastating. Stateless people cannot obtain official identity documents, marriages are not registered and can pass their statelessness on to their children Stateless people are denied access to public healthcare facilities at the same conditions as Lebanese nationals and are unable to own or to inherit property. Without documents they are unable to legally take jobs in public administrations and benefit from social security.

Children can be prevented from enrolling in public schools and are excluded from state exams. Even when they can afford a private education, they are often unable to obtain official certification.

Stateless people are not entitled to passports so cannot travel abroad. Even movement within Lebanon is curtailed, as without documents they risk being detained for being in the country unlawfully. They also do not enjoy basic political rights as voting or running for public office.

This is the story of Walid Sheikhmouss Hussein and his family from Beirut.

Stateless in Beirut

Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

The UN refugee agency's Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visited Iraq this week, meeting with Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqi citizens in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She offered support to 3.3 million people uprooted by conflict in the country and highlighted their needs.

Jolie spoke to people with dramatic stories of escape, including some who walked through the night and hid by day on their road freedom. She also met women who were among the 196 ethnic Yazidis recently released by militants and now staying in the informal settlement at Khanke.

"It is shocking to see how the humanitarian situation in Iraq has deteriorated since my last visit," said Jolie. "On top of large numbers of Syrian refugees, 2 million Iraqis were displaced by violence in 2014 alone. Many of these innocent people have been uprooted multiple times as they seek safety amidst shifting frontlines."

Photos by UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

Barbara Hendricks marks 25 years with UNHCR

Acclaimed soprano Barbara Hendricks has spent a quarter-of-a-century helping UNHCR to spread awareness about refugees and lobbying on their behalf with politicians and governments. She was named a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 1987 and, in 2002, was appointed Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador in recognition of her long service for the refugee agency.

In 2012, UNHCR celebrates this landmark 25th anniversary with a ceremony in the Geneva headquarters of the refugee agency. In her years with UNHCR, Hendricks has performed fund-raising concerts, met policymakers and government leaders in Europe, Asia and Africa and been on more than a dozen visits to the field, meeting the forcibly displaced around the world. UNHCR salutes its longest serving Goodwill Ambassador.

Barbara Hendricks marks 25 years with UNHCR