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Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Group of Experts on the Draft Convention on Territorial Asylum, 28 April 1975

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Group of Experts on the Draft Convention on Territorial Asylum, 28 April 1975

28 April 1975

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,

It is my duty and privilege on behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and on my own behalf as High Commissioner for Refugees to welcome you to this meeting of experts which has been convened in accordance with the terms of General Assembly resolution 3272 (XXIX) of 10 December 1974 on the elaboration of a draft Convention on Territorial Asylum, the sequel to the adoption of which you will find in the document before you A/AC.174/CRP.1.

Let me first congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, on your brilliant election, and congratulate the Vice-Chairman, Dr. Yoko of Zaïre and the Rapporteur, Amb. Nacimento-Silva of Brazil, on their respective elections.

The calling of this conference is the result of significant developments which have taken place in the last few years in the field of asylum. Asylum has existed in various forms since the dawn of history and as long as we live in an imperfect world it will remain an essential humanitarian institution and for this reason it has also been included in the catalogue of basic human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

The recent developments in regard to Asylum have been characterized by a growing desire to strengthen its legal basis beyond the traditional though still of course vitally important rule that to grant Asylum is the sovereign right of States. Thus within the framework of the United Nations - at a very early stage of its existence - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which I have already referred, proclaimed - in Article 14 - that "everyone has the rights to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution". Subsequently, after ten years of effort in the Human Rights Commission and in the Third and Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, the United Nations Declaration on Territorial Asylum was unanimously adopted by the Assembly on 14 December 1967, by resolution 2312 (XXII). This Declaration defined in the most concrete terms adopted hitherto various basic principles relating to the institution of Territorial Asylum and in particular the principle of non-refoulement which constitutes the essence of this humanitarian institution. In the Declaration, this principle, which also finds expression in the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees, is defined in clear and unambiguous terms to include also rejection at the frontier.

The United Nations Declaration on Territorial Asylum constituted an important milestone. Although, as a resolution of the General Assembly it is not a legally binding instrument, its force lies in its unanimous adoption and the circumstances that all governments regardless of political and ideological differences agreed that their policy in the field of asylum should be guided by the principles defined in the Declaration. Subsequent developments in the direction of strengthening the legal basis of asylum have been the important action taken in this field within the framework of various regional organizations. The OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa unanimously adopted on 10 September 1969 by the Conference of Heads of States and Governments of the Organization of African Unity reproduces the various principles defined in the United Nations Declaration of Territorial Asylum in Legally binding form. These principles have also to a large extent been incorporated in the American Convention on Human Rights adopted by a special Conference of Human Rights of the Organization of American States at San José, Costa Rica, on 22 November 1969.

Finally, in the field of municipal law, provisions relating to asylum have been incorporated in the constitutions and/or ordinary legislation of a number of countries in many areas of the world. The constitutions of certain Western European countries, various socialist countries and of many countries in Africa and Latin America are a living illustration of the pre-occupation of States with this problem on the national level.

These various positive trends led to the convening of a Group of Experts to examine the entire question at Bellagio/Italy, in April 1971 and in Geneva in January 1972 and to the sequence of events described in document A/AC.174/CRP.1. The result of their deliberations is the text of a Draft Convention on Territorial Asylum which has been submitted to you for consideration by the General Assembly.

In view of the fundamental importance of Asylum and the tragic consequences which may arise if the principles relating to Asylum are disregarded, there can be no doubt that all efforts to strengthen the legal basis of the institution of Asylum are greatly to be welcomed. I have already mentioned the principle of non-refoulement which focuses attention on asylum as seen from the standpoint of the individual. It cannot, however, be overlooked - and this has been the fundamental theme of all efforts to develop and strengthen the institution of Asylum on the international level - that Asylum can only function effectively within the context of international understanding and international co-operation. When we speak of international understanding, we think of a further principle expressed in the United Nations Declaration of Territorial Asylum, i.e. that the granting of asylum is purely humanitarian in nature and should not be regarded as an unfriendly act by any other State, and when speaking of international co-operation, we think of the yet further principle expressed in the Declaration, i.e. that the situation of persons seeking asylum is of concern to the international community which shall assist that State on which the granting of asylum places too heavy a burden.

To ensure that the principles relating to Asylum can be more clearly and satisfactorily defined so that they may be more fully and effectively implemented in a humanitarian spirit is indeed the challenging task with which you have been entrusted. The Draft Convention which is before you today represents in all objectivity a bare minimum and I sincerely hope and am confident that the recommendations of this Group will be inspired by generous and humanitarian considerations.

I am aware that the problems which arise are many and varied. The legal problems involved are complex, but I am sure that such eminent experts as are gathered here will examine them assiduously with a view to finding solutions. In this noble endeavour which is your task I wish you all success.