Provisional Summary Record of the Two Hundred and Sixty-Third Meeting Held at Lake Success New York on Tuesday, 15 November 1949, at 10.45 a.m.
A/C.3/SR 263 15 November 1949 Provisional Summary Record of the Two Hundred and Sixty-Third Meeting Held at Lake Success New York on Tuesday, 15 November 1949, at 10.45 a.m.
Chairman: Mr. Carlos E. STOLK Venezuela
Rapporteur: Mr. Frantisek VRBA Czechoslovakia
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REFUGEES AND STATELESS PERSONS: ITEM PROPOSED BY THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL (A/971, A/1059, A/C.3/527, A/C.3/527/Corr.1, A/C.3/528, A/C.3/529, A/C.3/L.25, A/C.3/L.29, A/C.3/L.30, A/C.3/L.31, A/C.3/L.32) (continued)
1. Mr. RECHEFORT (France) asked for the floor to answer the questions put to him at the previous meeting by several representatives, in particular by Mr. Penteado and Mr. Azkoul.
2. The financial considerations referred to by Mr. Penteado had been a matter of concern to the French delegation also. The protective machinery outlined in the joint draft resolution proposed by France and the United State was of such a nature that it would be easily adapted to whatever budget the Assembly might vote; there was little difference between the proposal to allocate 500,000 dollars or 750,000 dollars for the work of the High Commissioner's Office and the proposal to introduce a certain number of essential provisions which would have to be adapted to the budget.
3. Mr. Rochefort next referred to Mr. Azkoul's remarks concerning: (1) the divergences of view between the United States and French representatives in connexion with definitions; (2) the right to nationality to which reference should be made in the draft resolution.
4. With regard to the first question, the French variant was in accordance with the wording of Annex I of the Constitution of the IRO, which mentioned "refugees" and "displaced persons", but not categories of such persons.
5. If the word "categories" were used, the IRO definitions would be accepted as final, whereas if a revision of those definitions were proposed it would be possible to introduce new ones. Neither or the proposed texts would prevent the ad hoc committee from submitting its own proposals to the General Assembly, which would adopt the definition it considered the most rational. He preferred his own text, however, to that of the United States, in view of the fact that the definitions drawn up by the IRO were for the use of an organization which was only temporary.
6. He failed to understand the caution displayed by the United States representative, since in any event the High Commissioner would receive his directives from the General Assembly. There was nothing to prevent the Assembly from adding, to the definitions it adopted, a clause defining the circumstances in which they should be applied. Moreover, a problem concerning refugees would not automatically become a matter for the High Commissioner, nor would he be empowered to submit it to Governments. He could act only within the limits of his functions, which were not very broad.
7. A further argument for a revision of the IRO definitions was the fact that they applied only in special circumstances and to a wealthy organization. The High Commissioner's Office, which was merely a supervisory body, would find it difficult to apply those definitions. Furthermore, in accordance with the terms of the draft resolution before the Committee, the Governments themselves would actually furnish assistance to the refugees. That situation did not fit in with the IRO provisions under which refugees who refused to be repatriated or resettled, or who did not make an honest effort to earn a living, would cease to be regarded as such. It would be impossible for Governments to adopt such criteria.
8. Summing up that part of his statement, Mr. Rochefort said that the IRO definitions were hardly applicable to the new situation and that they had frequently been the cause of unjust decisions. Hence they should only be retained until the proposed reforms had been carried out.
9. He then turned to the question of the functioning of the international organization to be set up after the reform. He recalled that in the Declaration of Human Rights the United Nations had proclaimed the universal right to a nationality and the right of asylum. If it was desired that the High Commissioner should be guided by that principle of universality, the General Assembly, when adopting the new definitions, should instruct him accordingly.
10. The man to be appointed to the post must obviously possess a high degree of judgement and be capable of dealing with very delicate questions. For example, when considering the problem of the Arab refugees, he should bear in mind the special measures which had already been taken on their behalf and the fact that the Arab countries might not wish his Office to interfere with what had already been done.
11. He suggested two hypothetical cases to illustrate the working of the new system. (a) Assuming that a Government had more refugees than it could cope with, and wished to obtain international assistance in dealing with them, it would not be able to apply directly to the High Commissioner. Nor could the High Commissioner ex officio take over the problem. The correct procedure would be to refer the question to the General Assembly, which would give the necessary directives. (b) If a Government ill-treated the refugees whom it was supposed to protect, the High Commissioner would not be empowered to take action himself. His duty would be to investigate the situation and to recall the Government concerned to a sense of its international responsibility. Should that Government accept his suggestions, it would have to sign a clause in an international convention pledging itself to give the refugees more liberal treatment. If it did not accept them, the General Assembly, after considering the case, might invite that Government to do its duty.
12. He concluded that the draft resolution submitted to the Committee contained all necessary precautions with regard to the working of the High Commissioner's Office.
13. He thought that the High Commissioner might be appointed either by the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council or the Secretary-General. He did not consider it advisable, however, that the appointment should be made by the Secretary-General.
14. The Lebanese representative had referred to article 15 of the Universal Declaration and to the article relating to the right of asylum. Mr. Rochefort wished to reply, because the question had often been distorted by the press, which had misinterpreted the claim that the protection of refugees was an international problem. According to certain newspapers, that proposition would be hypocritically argued by a country which was guilty of perpetuating the refugee problem and anxious to obtain financial assistance from the United Nations in order to solve it.
15. His country approached the problem with a clear conscience. He wished to describe the situation which existed in the various countries of Europe, in order to dispel any misunderstanding. In that way he would show that the French proposal was designed to help the refugees themselves, and not the receiving countries.
16. The "right to a nationality" did not mean that the receiving countries were to be required to grant their nationality to the refugees. It was rather directed against those States which deprived their subjects of their nationality, or placed them in such a difficult situation that they were obliged to leave their country of origin.
17. The receiving countries could not be required automatically to extend citizenship to those enjoying their hospitality. Indeed, many refugees did not desire to be naturalized. Such, for example, was the case of the 70,000 Spanish republicans currently in France, who hoped one day to return to Spain. Moreover such a provision would terminate the right of asylum. It should be remembered that the host countries extended their hospitality to all who needed it without taking any special precautions. They admit not only those who applied in the regular manner but even those who arrived clandestinely. Their attitude differed greatly from that of countries of immigration which before extending a visa adopted all manner of precautions concerning the age, origin, mentality, political opinions, physical condition and number of dependants of the prospective immigrants.
18. The inference was that not the host countries but the countries of immigration had created the problem before the Committee. He recalled that when France had, in Geneva, brought up the question of the help to be extended, it had not been thinking of the refugees it had admitted but rather of the "hard core" still living in Germany.
19. Turning to the question of naturalization, he thought refugees could not be required to become citizens of the host countries. Any solution to the problem of refugees would therefore have to take into consideration the right of asylum as well as the right to nationality. The stand taken by France showed that it did not fear criticism in the matter of refugees generally.
20. Mr. BEAUFORT (Netherlands) thanked the representatives of the United States and France for having worked on Saturday and Sunday on the joint draft resolution before the Committee.
21. He proceeded to comment on the points on which the two representatives still differed.
22. Regarding the definition of the term refugee, he preferred the formula submitted by Mr. Rochefort since it offered a more flexible method and enabled the Economic and Social Council to seek its own definition.
23. With regard to paragraph 4, sub-paragraph (e) of the annex, any decision on the matter would depend on how the future was viewed. Some optimists estimated that the problem of refugees would be solved by 1951. But such optimism was not in line with the International Refugee Organization's memorandum which stated that even after that date a number of refugees would require assistance. It was not, therefore, certain that after the dissolution of the IRO the problem of refugees could be reduced to one of mere legal protection. For that reason he was in favour of paragraph 4, sub-paragraph (e) of the annex.
24. With regard to the move of appointment of the High Commissioner, he preferred election by an organ of the United Nations, acting on a simple nomination of the Secretary-General. He preferred that method because it would give the High Commissioner greater independence.
25. Mr. FENAUX (Belgium) congratulated the representatives of the United States and France for their joint draft resolution. All that remained to be done was to choose between two types of High Commissioner: that proposed by France and that envisaged by United States.
26. In the circumstances he thought the situation was clear and that the Committee could come quickly to the voting stage.
27. Mrs. LIONAES (Norway) commended the IRO staff for the work it had accomplished. Her delegation had always maintained that the problem of refugees was international in character and for that reason her Government had joined the IRO. Thanks to the efforts of that organization, the scope of the problem had been reduced.
28. With regard to the future, she preferred a High Commissioner appointed by the Secretary-General. She considered also that the Office of the High Commissioner should be organized to care for the material needs of the refugees since the IRO's Director-General had stated that the famous "hard core" problem would not be solved even by 1951.
29. As to the financing of that assistance, she felt that the members of the IRO should not be the only ones to bear the cost and that the United Nations as a whole should defray the expenses of the Office of the High Commissioner. She thought that the joint resolution was not sufficiently clear on that point as paragraph 4, sub-paragraph (e) did not specify the source of funds.
30. Mr. JOCKEL (Australia) submitted two amendments (A/C.3/L.31) to the joint draft resolution.
31. He said the discussion had revealed the complex character of the problem of refugees and it was evident that new questions would arise in the future. The representative of France had raised the question of the aged and the infirm and had submitted a draft resolution on the assistance to be given to those categories of refugees (A/C.3/L..27). His delegation would support that draft resolution. The Greek representative had spoken of the children of his country while other representatives had raised the question of the Middle-East refugees. All those question could be discussed in the future.
32. The United States representative had foreseen that possibility when she had said that new problems might be referred to the General Assembly. That however might necessitate the extension of the High Commissioner's powers. For that purpose he was proposing to add to the end of the first operative paragraph of the draft resolution the following phrase: "to discharge the functions contained therein and such other functions as the General Assembly may from time to time confer upon it;".
33. He pointed out that he was not proposing anything new but he felt the General Assembly ought to be free at any time to extend the High Commissioner's powers; that be entirely in conformity with the French draft resolution.
34. That solution would enable the General Assembly to take new decisions without touching the basic resolution. For example, the question of financing would be a matter for the General Assembly.
35. With regard to the terms of reference to be given to the Office of the High Commissioner, he considered that for the time being the High Commissioner should be granted limited powers, subject to later extension.
36. In conclusion he said that he would support the new definition of the term "refugee" suggested by the United Kingdom representative.
37. Mrs. CASTLE (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) said that for the time being she would not insist on a new definition. But if she had to choose she preferred the French formula to the United States definition which might be prejudicial to those refugees who did not fall into any of the particular categories.
38. She also supported the French proposal contained in paragraph 4, sub-paragraph (e) of the annex. That proposal did not constitute an obligation either for the Governments concerned or for the General Assembly and she saw no reason why the High Commissioner should not be responsible for the distribution of the relief funds.
39. Finally, with regard to the appointment of the High Commissioner, she considered that he should be elected, not by the Economic and Social Council but by the General Assembly on the nomination of the Secretary-General. His election by the supreme organ of the United Nations would invest him with the highest authority.
40. Mr. KATZNELSON (Israel) was glad to note that the representatives of France and the United States of America had succeeded in drawing up a joint draft resolution. He was confident that they would also be able to resolve the minor differences which still divided them on three points. As a contribution towards such agreement, his delegation wished to suggest a compromise text for the alternative versions of paragraph 3 (b), which might be drafted as follows: "to transmit to the General Assembly at its fifth regular session such recommendations as the Council may deem appropriate regarding the extension of categories of refugees entitled to protection to persons not covered by the Constitution of the IRO." (A/C.3/L.33).
41. Should his amendment be adopted, then the Committee should also adopt the United States version of paragraph 3 of the Annex, which in the circumstances would be in complete correspondence with the facts.
42. His delegation also would prefer some such word as "operation" instead of "establishment" in paragraph 3 (a), since, if a decision to establish a High Commissioner's Office was taken by the General Assembly in the current session, the Council would only be required to consider the measures necessary for the operation of the new agency.
43. He added that, since the problem of aid would not arise until the IRO came to an end in 1951, the Economic and Social Council might still be requested to study the problem more thoroughly and to submit its recommendations to the General Assembly concerning the continuance of material assistance to certain categories of refugees. A provision on those lines (A/C.3/L.33) might be in the form of a new paragraph to be inserted after paragraph 3 (b) of the joint draft resolution.
44. If its proposals were not accepted by the representatives of France and the United States of America, the delegation of Israel would vote for the alternative texts submitted by the French delegation, which it considered preferable to those submitted by the United States. it would also vote for the Australian amendment (A/C.3/L.31) which it regarded as sound.
45. Mr. STEPANENKO (Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic) recalled that his delegation had explained before why the original French proposal was unacceptable to it. The joint draft resolution contained no new features and only differed from the first text submitted to the Committee in points of detail. The position of his delegation therefore remained unchanged.
46. The first paragraph of the preamble of the joint draft resolution stated a principle which his delegation had always upheld and would continue to uphold, that a final solution of the problem of refugees could "only be provided by the voluntary repatriation of the refugees". But apart from that pious declaration, the draft resolution's operative part contained no provision likely to encourage and accomplish repatriation.
47. The draft resolution on the contrary made express provision for the resettlement of refugees and for their assimilation within new national communities. His delegation had opposed such a solution in the past. Like the delegations of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and of the other people's democracies, it had brought evidence to show that the fate of displaced persons, whom attempts had been made to resettle in other countries, was anything but enviable. After a year or two of the hard work which they were usually compelled to do, their one desire was to return home and the few who had succeeded in doing so had an illuminating story to tell. In such circumstances it was clear that his delegation must categorically reject a formula, which, in its view, could only spell poverty and death for the unfortunate refugee.
48. He went on to paint a contrasting picture of the life of the displaced persons who had returned to the USSR and to the countries of people's democracy. He cited actual cases in which refugees from Germany were now earning a good living in factories or collective farms. Despite the post-war difficulties, the national authorities had done everything possible to provide them with a livelihood and satisfactory housing and to ensure them a life free from uncertainty and exploitation.
49. The draft resolution submitted by his delegation had been inspired by those facts. It was based on the principle that repatriation provided the only satisfactory solution of the problem of refugees, contrary to the view which those, who were waging a campaign of lies and slander in the displaced persons camps were attempting to spread for their own nefarious purposes.
50. The draft resolution submitted by the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic also required the Governments concerned and the IRO to furnish full particulars regarding the refugees and displaced persons in their territories and camps as well as information regarding their living conditions. Such information was essential if a correct idea of the number of refugees and their precise fate was to be obtained.
51. Finally, the draft resolution submitted by his delegation had the further advantage of avoiding additional expenditure by the United Nations. The same could not be said of the joint draft resolution, which carried heavy financial implications, although attempts were being made to minimize them with a view to making the proposal more acceptable.
52. There was no reason for rejecting his delegation's draft resolution; the discreet silence maintained by its opponents bore out that view.
53. For its part, the delegation of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic would vote against the joint draft resolution submitted by the delegations of France and the United States of America.
54. Mrs. KIRPALANI (India) said that she had followed the debate on the subject of refugees and stateless persons with great interest and attention. The debate had made it clear that the proposed High Commissioner's Office would have the functions, firstly, of giving material and legal assistance to the remaining refugees under the care of the IRO and secondly, of giving legal protection to all refugees in the categories as defined in the Constitution of the IRO. The speeches of several representatives and in particular Mrs. Roosevelt's reply to the representative of Pakistan had made it abundantly clear that the new international organization would not be in a position to undertake any greater responsibility. If that conclusion was correct, it was difficult to understand the reasons for setting up a High Commissioner's Office at that stage.
55. The Secretary-General's report (A/C.3/527, page 25) indicated that by 30 June 1950, 149,400 refugees would still be eligible for aid in accordance with the IRO Constitution. Of that number, about 20,000 would require institutional care for a long period. Mrs. Roosevelt had said in her reply to the representative of Pakistan that IRO had allocated 10 million dollars for those 20,000 refugees up to June 1950 and a further 12 million dollars for the period thereafter. The United Nations would therefore no longer be responsible for their care. A total of 129,400 persons would thus remain. The Secretary-General had also indicated that the life of the IRO would probably be prolonged for another nine months, until March 1951. During those nine months it might be hoped that the IRO would succeed in settling the majority of the refugees still under its care and that the number of refugees for which the United Nations would then be responsible would be quite insignificant.
56. Hence it would be logical to extend the functions of the IRO to enable it to complete the task for which it had been created instead of transferring its responsibilities to a new organization. The IRO had been created at a time of emergency to meet a particular need. It had fulfilled its obligation with efficiency. The emergency period being over, it seemed hardly necessary to create a new international body, which, it was to be feared, would in all probability become a permanent, or at least, a semi-permanent organization.
57. The basic duty of the organization would be the legal protection of stateless persons. Mrs. Kispalani wished to recall in that connexion that at its last session the Economic and Social Council had set up an Ad Hoc Committee to draft a convention for the protection of stateless persons. Under the convention, the signatory States would be bound to protect persons who had taken refuge in their territory. Furthermore, the Secretariat of the United Nations was responsible for supervising the implementation of any convention of that kind. That solution appeared satisfactory and, moreover, would not in any way prejudice the interests of the refugees, as it would be understood that IRO would remain in operation until the proposed convention was concluded.
58. The Indian delegation was grateful to the Brazilian representative for having raised the important question of the financial implications of the proposal under consideration, and fully agreed with his remarks. Merely to establish the administrative machinery necessary to a proper functioning of the High Commissioner's Office would require 750,000 dollars, according to the Secretary-General's estimate. Poor countries, such as India, realized that that was a considerable sum. It would be difficult for India to contribute to a budget to be used only for the legal protection of certain refugees when there were millions of refugees in dire need on its own territory.
59. It was true that those refugees were not stateless: the State ensured their protection. But statelessness was often a lesser hardship than lack of food, clothing, shelter and work. In order to deal with the tremendous problem before it, the Indian Government had had to create a central Refugee Ministry as well as seven Refugee Ministries in the provinces or states. At the time of partition, the government had had to provide special camps sheltering as many as 100,000 people; real townships where hospitals, schools, work centres etc. had had to be organized. Now that the first phase of the work had been completed, the Government had to begin the still more difficult task of resettling more than 7 million refugees. To that end it had begun construction of six townships and thousands of houses all over the country. In addition, it was making loans to the refugees to help them to learn or practise a trade. All that was a very heavy burden on national resources.
60. The Indian representative made a moving reference to the innumerable refugees on the roads of all the townships of her country. She was particularly qualified to so because she had devoted her whole time to them for three years, living and working among them in order to organize the largest non-governmental organization in India. She was afraid that the adoption of a proposal such as that before the Committee might make an unfortunate impression among those homeless people.
61. The Indian Government did not want to shirk any of its international responsibilities, and it wished to take part in any humanitarian work undertaken by the United Nations. In spite of its own difficulties, it would have voted for the establishment of a High Commissioner's Office if it had been convinced that the need for it was imperative. It did not think, however - and the discussion had confirmed that opinion - that there was any very great need to set up an elaborate international organization whose sole responsibility would be to give refugees legal protection. At a time when its own refugees were dying of starvation, it would be obliged to vote against all the resolutions submitted, and hoped that the stand it had taken would not be misinterpreted.
62. Mr. LAUGIER (Assistant Secretary-General) clarified the budgetary aspect of the question. The Secretary-General's report (A/C.3/529) had given details only with regard to the administrative expenditure entailed by the creation of a High Commissioner's Office. The expenditure required for material assistance to refugees was quite another question, to which no satisfactory reply could be given before the General Assembly's decisions on certain fundamental points were known. It was first of all essential to know whether the Assembly intended to make the new organ responsible for supplying such material assistance. If that were so, it would have to be made clear whether the High Commissioner would distribute the aid directly or whether relief would be distributed through Governments. Furthermore, it was necessary to know whether the funds for such assistance were to be of the United Nations. Finally, there would have to be agreement on a definition of refugees qualified to receive the assistance in question so that an approximate estimate of their number could be made. Unless those details were known, it would be useless to attempt to make any budget estimate. In so far as the General Assembly defined the scope of the High Commissioner's work, the relevant services of the Secretariat would be able to give a detailed opinion on the consequences of such a decision.
63. Replying to a question from the Lebanese representative, Mr. Laugier said that the structure of the High Commissioner's Office, as contemplated in the joint French-United States draft resolution (A/C.3/L.29), was not such as to entail expenditure above that foreseen in the Secretary-General's report. In the event of the General Assembly adopting the French delegation's proposal in item 4, sub-paragraph (e) of the annex to the joint draft resolution, the High Commissioner would be called upon to distribute among private and, as appropriate, official agencies which he deemed best qualified to administer such assistance, any funds, public or private, which he might receive for that purpose. Such operations would not imply the creation of large services which would strain the budget of the new organization. On the whole, there was no reason to foresee any expenditure in addition to that indicated by the Secretary-General in his report. It might even be that actual expenditure would be somewhat less.
64. Mr. CONTOUMAS (Greece) found some difficulty in understanding the extent of the differences between the French and United States proposals. Some of the distinctions it was proposed to make might be justified if material assistance to the refugees was being contemplated. But both the French and the United States delegations had agreed to limit the High Commissioner's competence to the legal protection of refugees. It was there fore difficult to see why such protection should be restricted to certain categories of refugees.
65. In reply to the Greek representative, Mr. ROCHEFORT (France) observed that the expression "legal protection" did not appear in the operative part of the joint draft resolution. The need to ensure such protection was, moreover, only one of the aspects of the refugee problem.
66. In 1933, there had been an international convention for the protection of stateless persons, under which persons deprived of nationality enjoyed the most extensive rights and the most formal guarantees. There had, however, been only eight signatories of that convention. Some of the signatory States had adhered to it with such considerable reservations that the convention had been practically nullified. Every effort should be made to prevent the recurrence of such a situation. The High Commissioner should be the bearer of the United Nations' message to the various Governments; he should be the guardian of international morality in the matter.
67. The French delegation believed that anyone, who had been deprived of his nationality and who did not intend to request nationality form another State, had the right to international protection. France desired the adoption of a broader definition not in order to make the Governments' task easier, but in the interest of stateless persons. It was not demanding any privilege when it proposed to set up international supervision.
68. There was no question of approving a cancellation of the definition adopted by IRO. That organization had a provisional character. It had been created in 1946 to meet the needs of the moment. The definition of the term refugees in its Constitution also corresponded to the circumstances of the moment when the organization was set up. The definition would cease to be valid at the same time as the IRO Constitution, that is, at the moment when that body's competence ended. Even if the General Assembly decided to adopt the same definition for the High Commissioner's use, it would be a text independent from that incorporated in the IRO Constitution, which would automatically have ceased to be part of positive law. It would, however, be only logical to take advantage of the opportunity to adopt a fairer definition and one better adapted to the permanent realities of the problem of statelessness.
The meeting rose at 12.55 a.m.