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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.




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