Background Note on the Ministerial Meeting of States Parties to the 1951 Convention and/or 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (Geneva, 12 and 13 December 2001)

The year 2001 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 28 July 1951, which is the founding instrument of the international regime for the protection of refugees. A total of 141 States are Parties to the 1951 refugee convention and/or its Protocol of 31 January 1967.

The Government of Switzerland and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will jointly convene the first formal meeting of States Parties to the Convention and/or Protocol, which will be held at ministerial level in Geneva on 12 and 13 December 2001. Invitations have been extended to all States Parties to the Convention and/or Protocol. All other UN Member States that have not yet acceded to the Convention/Protocol have been invited to participate as observers, alongside other UN, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations accredited as observers to UNHCR's Executive Committee and related Global Consultations meetings.

The Ministerial Meeting of States Parties is conceived as an integral part of the Global Consultations on the protection of refugees, launched by UNHCR in December 2000, endorsed by UNHCR's Executive Committee and welcomed by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

People continue to flee across borders to escape violence and persecution. While refugee needs for protection have remained constant, the environment in which they have to be addressed has markedly evolved. The 50th Anniversary of the Convention is a time for serious reflection, not only on past achievements, but also on the work needed to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of the refugee protection regime for the next five decades.

The Ministerial Meeting is intended to:

  • commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Convention;
  • reaffirm, in a declaration to be adopted, a collective commitment of States Parties to the full and effective implementation of the Convention and Protocol;
  • encourage States that are Parties to withdraw any reservations that they may have lodged at the time of their accession and encourage States that are not yet Parties to the Convention/Protocol to accede to these treaties; and
  • enable States to exchange views on how best to build upon the Convention system so as to ensure that aspects of the world's refugee situation that are not adequately covered also benefit from an effective response. (To inform the discussion, a comprehensive albeit preliminary Elements for a Provisional Agenda for Protection, to be devised through the Global Consultations process, will be submitted for information).

A Preparatory Session for the Ministerial Meeting was held in Geneva on 20 and 21 September 2001, under the chairmanship of Mr. Jean-Daniel Gerber (Switzerland). The session hammered out the text of a draft declaration that will be tabled for adoption by the Ministerial Meeting, and approved the rules of procedure and the format of the meeting. It also elected the following States to serve as Vice-Chairs of the Ministerial Meeting: Algeria, Belgium, Canada, Philippines and Venezuela.