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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group of the International Conference on former Yugoslavia, Geneva, 8 October 1993

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group of the International Conference on former Yugoslavia, Geneva, 8 October 1993

8 October 1993

Let me welcome all of you to this meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group of the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia. My introductory statement will be brief and I am afraid, pessimistic.

The prospects for peace having receded, the situation in former Yugoslavia is in both political and humanitarian terms more alarming than ever. With fighting and "ethnic cleansing" continuing, never has there been so much intolerance and misery in the region. But never has there been such yearning for peace amongst the victims.

It is on behalf of these victims that today the United Nations is launching the seventh Consolidated Appeal since the start of the international relief effort in November 1991. The appeal covers the period October 1993 until June 1994, and the funding requirements for all the agencies involved in the operation are again high, totalling 696 million usd. The beneficiary population, which was 500.000 in late 1991, has now reached a staggering 4.26 million people, an increase of over 400.000 from the March 1993 appeal. This is explained by the rising number of displaced persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the addition of the most vulnerable local populations in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The appeal reflects the continued complementarity and division of responsibilities among UNHCR as lead agency, WFP, WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNIDO, UNV, IOM and DHA. It continues to concentrate on emergency needs such as food, health and shelter. Social service support for victims of trauma, especially women and children, and educational assistance are also included. I am grateful for the vital support of UNPROFOR and the magnificent work carried out by the European Community Humanitarian Office, the European Community Monitoring Mission, the ICRC, and numerous non-governmental organizations.

In the refugee receiving countries of the region, a crucial feature of the relief effort continues to be cash and other support programmes for families hosting refugees. Without their impressive solidarity, there will be more refugee camps in the heart of Europe, a very painful thought, and there will be more secondary displacement to third countries. At the same time I call again on all governments in the region to continue ensuring the protection of all refugees on their territory, irrespective of religion or ethnic origin. In cooperation with the authorities concerned UNHCR will fully exert its protection mandate, to prevent the re-occurrence of refoulement and harassment of refugees. In this context I am grateful to the Croatian government for its assurances that it will continue to host refugees. I hope that the assistance foreseen in the new appeal will include the Croatian authorities to proceed with the much needed registration of refugees who arrived after the end of March 1993. I also appreciate the current refugee registration exercise in Slovenia, and the continued protection offered by Serbia and Montenegro.

Resettlement remains another feature of UNHCR's operation, and demands and deserves more and more attention in the context of international protection, burden sharing and in the specific interest of vulnerable groups.

The resettlement process is often difficult, not the least because we are operating with victims in a war zone. Resettlement should be driven by needs rather than demand. During the first six months of this year, the former Yugoslavia operation processed nearly 7.000 refugees for departure, amounting to 39% of UNHCR sponsored resettlement departures worldwide; by the end of September resettlement from former Yugoslavia had doubled to over 14,000. I am deeply grateful for the cooperation of many governments and NGOs in this respect.

Let me now turn to the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The planned beneficiary population has increased from 2.27 to 2.74 million people, of whom not less than 1.29 million are displaced. Others are living, under miserable conditions, in besieged cities, pockets and regions. All agencies in the international relief effort are urgently preparing for a second winter of war, which we all have feared so much. Large quantities of food and winterization materials, such as blankets, mattresses, sheeting, repair kits and stoves, are being moved to the main warehouses in the region. Coal, wood and fuel, essential for the energy supply in many areas, are being prepositioned. The International Management Group, proposed at the 16 July meeting of this Working Group, has been set up in Zagreb and should ensure the effective coordination of further bilateral initiatives in the areas of shelter, infrastructure and energy. I have requested the acting Deputy High Commissioner to travel to the region next week, to examine the state of preparedness for this winter.

But there should be no illusion. I want to repeat here what I said during our previous meeting, on 16 July: without peace, the humanitarian relief effort will be unable to avert catastrophe. Let me make one thing very clear: the responsibility for the agony in Bosnia and Herzegovina lies with the political and military leaders. No amount of humanitarian assistance can overcome this stark reality.

Since June we have been prevented from bringing relief to the enclaves of Maglaj and Tesanj; we are prevented from transferring any non-food items, including shoes for children, to the three enclaves in eastern Bosnia; we are prevented from ensuring regular supplies of relief to Mostar, of fuel to Sarajevo, of anything to the whole of embattled central Bosnia. Instead, we are far too often at the mercy of ad hoc deliveries, by humanitarian personnel sitting in armoured personnel carriers, amidst shelling and callous sniper fire.

Indeed, I am particularly concerned that in many locations the dangers faced by humanitarian personnel have reached totally unacceptable levels.

Another preoccupation is that with continued fighting and manipulation, it will become still more difficult to prevent part of the humanitarian assistance being diverted from the intended beneficiaries.

A further area of concern remains the dire plight of thousands of detainees, used as hostages, as human shields or for exchange purposes. Recently the Bosnian Croat side have released some 500 civilians, who are now in Croatia. This is a positive sign, but it is not enough. All parties must grant full access to the ICRC, and release unconditionally all civilian detainees. The detention of civilians and the practice, by some parties, of counting on the humanitarian organizations to take them out of Bosnia, and of the region, must stop.

This winter, at best the humanitarian disaster can be mitigated, for a number of the victims, and then only if the parties ensure:

  • full, unimpeded and unconditional access to all civilian populations in need;
  • the safety of humanitarian personnel and;
  • the use of relief for civilian purposes only.

We have tried to uphold these basic humanitarian principles from the outset of the war. In order for the relief effort to continue, I must insist again that they be categorically observed, and I intend to pursue this with the Bosnian parties in the context of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group.

In the overriding interests of the victims, I will indeed do everything possible to continue, wherever and for as long as we can. The parties must fulfil the conditions which I have just mentioned. My Special Envoy and I will keep the situation under constant review, with Mr. Stoltenberg, UNPROFOR and others concerned.

The contribution of the international community, here present, remains an equally vital one in our joint endeavour. I count on your moral support, and on your continued assistance to ensure that the sanctions imposed by the Security Council do not impede the full and efficient implementation of the strictly humanitarian programmes foreseen in the new Consolidated Appeal. And of course, I also count on your strong and unfailing financial support. All agencies participating in the Appeal are facing urgent shortfalls for the rest of this year. I should like to invite all of you to contribute generously to the seventh Consolidated Appeal for the former Yugoslavia. With your help the international relief effort is still a most difficult undertaking, but without your help this effort will be impossible.

I thank you.