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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly at its 1522nd meeting, 22 November 1967

Speeches and statements

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly at its 1522nd meeting, 22 November 1967

22 November 1967

Madame Chairman, I should like on this occasion to express my gratitude and appreciation to you, and indeed to all the members of the Third Committee for the consensus which developed during this debate and also for the very positive decision that has just been taken to adopt this resolution. I think the level of the debate throughout was remarkably high, if you would allow me to say so, and a source of tremendous inspiration to my work. During the debate a number of unanimous expressions of goodwill developed and a consensus emerged, as indeed during the voting which has just taken place, and I think one of the important points on which there was a consensus is the obvious need to continue our efforts to renew the Mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

I also very much appreciated the consensus which developed on the need to intensify our efforts in Africa which, most unfortunately, is the continent today which seems to know the full impact, the burning nature of the refugee problem. This is linked very much, and I think this is another consensus which developed during the interventions, with the problem of development and it is something we will bear in mind as we continue our efforts to solve the refugee problem on the continent of Africa. In this connexion I should like to express deep gratitude and appreciation to all the members of the Third Committee who reflected the views of my Executive Committee, and who reflected the views of the Economic and Social Council in encouraging the inclusion in the resolution that was just passed of the reference to the fact that I should be invited to attend the meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Board of the United Nations Development Programme. This will facilitate the development of even closer links with the United Nations development agencies. It will again confirm what I have believed to be very much one of the essential points of our action in recent years, namely, that the solution of refugee problems is linked with the problem of economic and social development as a whole.

I also noted with great interest the references that were made in some of the statements about the need to phase out our action and have this taken over by the development agencies. The phase out of our activities and the taking-over, at a later stage of the refugees integration, by other United Nations agencies, is something which I referred to in my opening statement. I feel very strongly about this, and I would like to say how much I appreciate the constructive advice which was given during the discussions that took place here on this question.

I should like to say also how deeply grateful we are for the announcements of increased contributions toward the 1968 Programme. Many delegations here, indeed many delegations also in my own Executive Committee, announced increases. I should like to thank them and through them their respective Governments for this gesture of solidarity to our work and for this expression of humanitarian concern for the plight of refugees. I should like to say that the examples given by these delegations should be followed by many others. I am hopeful that they will be. I think it is very remarkable indeed that many African delegations, not only contribute already to our programme, but announced further increases to the programme. The fact that these particular Governments should represent countries which have a burning refugee problem of their own, which spend so much money already trying to solve the refugee problems within their borders, should choose to associate themselves with the international effort for refugees by contributing even further to my own programme, is a source of tremendous encouragement and should serve as an example to others. I believe that all the contributions that can be made, however small, however symbolic, broaden the base of our action, and also give us a tangible expression of moral and political support which is what we need in this consensus to try and solve the problem. Therefore, I hope that this will be an example to others. I hope that it will also be an example to those Governments, as some delegates said, who can afford to do more than they do already, and who might consider increasing their contributions for the future.

Madame Chairman, with your permission I would like very briefly to comment on some of the statements made by some of the distinguished representatives which I felt were of special importance in my work.

I should like to say to the distinguished delegate of Cuba that I listened to her statement with great care and attention, and that I would like to reassure her that our action is always based on humanitarian considerations and that we certainly would never conceive of granting any assistance to individuals who might engage in subversion or terrorism or act contrary to the principles of the United Nations. My Office, very much aware of its Mandate within the United Nations family, wants to contribute to peace and stability, and we have used this as a guideline, as a basic philosophy in all our actions. Whenever Governments request our good offices to assist refugee problems on a humanitarian basis, we do so bearing in mind that they must be helped peacefully and that by no means should they be encouraged to resort to any type of subversion.

The distinguished representative of Ghana emphasized how much the co-operation of the Organization of African Unity should be stressed in my work. I agree entirely. I feel that the OAU has given us tremendous support in Africa, demonstrated again most tangibly in the Addis Ababa Conference which was referred to frequently during the debate. This co-operation is strengthened everyday. We have an office in Addis Ababa which is a liaison with the Organization of African Unity; they sent representatives to my Executive Committee in Geneva and we work very closely together.

I also very much appreciate the distinguished representative of Ghana's appeal to Governments who helped bilaterally in Africa, to Governments who have bilateral aid programmes to include refugees in this bilateral assistance. This is something which I think is tremendously important. Indeed, if I stressed the multilateral aspects of development, it was very good of her to remind us also of the bilateral aspects of development and how important it is for those Governments who are helping on a bilateral basis to include the refugee groups who are in the African countries.

I also noted the reference to United Nations Children's Fund in her statement. I would like to say that we work with UNICEF. UNICEF helps the Office in carrying out its work in Africa especially. We have received large quantities of powdered mild from UNICEF for the children in the refugee settlement areas. But certainly, we shall bear in mind the advice given in connexion with UNICEF. I would like to say that I always try to strengthen this inter-agency co-operation for all United Nations agencies.

The distinguished representative of Italy stressed that it might be useful in our reporting to include a small paragraph on what she referred to as the "non-financial means of action". These of course are very varied. They go from the ad hoc daily contacts with a vast network of inter-governmental organizations, voluntary agencies and private groups. Generally, included in what I would call "non-financial means of action" are fund-raising activities, promoting interest for refugees, public relations efforts through the publication of various information materials. It is rather difficult actually to make a résumé of all these wide-ranging activities in the report which is submitted before you. But we will bear this in mind and try to improve our information techniques so that this particular important aspect of our work is also included for the attention of the General Assembly.

The distinguished representative of Iraq mentioned inter alia the very important recommendation taken in Addis Ababa by the conference which I referred to, recommendation 4 about voluntary repatriation and settlement of former refugees in their country of origin, and particularly to paragraph 10 which states that the United Nations General Assembly should adopt a resolution broadening the terms of reference of the UNHCR to enable it to assist Governments in their endeavours to aid former refugees who have returned to their homeland. This raises a fundamental point which I know the distinguished delegate of Iraq fully appreciated when she said that perhaps in the future the General Assembly might consider this recommendation and take a decision accordingly. There is here a fundamental problem of doctrine, of terms of reference because, as is well-known, the main responsibility of the High Commissioner remains, as it was stressed here, international protection. You obviously cannot protect people once they return back home since they are nationals like any other citizen of their country and being in a sovereign State, their own sovereign State, they naturally must be protected by their responsible Government and not by an international organization. In other words, the competence of my Office ceases when refugees return home and cross their borders. This is a fundamental problem I foresee and I think it was also analysed in Addis Ababa. On the question of the material assistance, which of course is what I believe the distinguished delegate of Iraq had in mind, I would simply like to say that we should not duplicate the efforts of other United Nations agencies which deal specifically with economic and social development, and perhaps have programmes in the countries to which these refugees will be returning. After all, the assistance we provide is only very marginal. Our assistance is essentially catalytic, as the Third Committee well knows; the extent of our effectiveness in the country of origin would be in terms of material assistance, rather limited. Certainly, it would be much more limited than the type of assistance which the economic and social development agencies of the United Nations might be able to provide to these countries. So, we should avoid duplication and overlapping for the future.

But, I would like to add one more point which is that the General Assembly is of course the master of its own house. This was proved, I think, in 1961 when during the sixteenth session of the General Assembly, the 1081st is meeting passed resolution 1672 which was then concerned with the some 200,000 Algerian refugees who were planning to return, as a result of the Evian cease-fire agreement, to their homeland from Tunisia and Morocco. The High Commissioner at that time, and for that particular group of refugees, was asked inter alia and I quote "to use the means at his disposal to assist in the orderly return of those refugees to their homes and", this is the important point, "consider the possibility when necessary of facilitating their resettlement in their homeland as soon as circumstances permit". The resettlement in their homeland included using some of the funds which we had for assistance to these groups outside, in Algeria itself, and this was done. It was only several years later that the facilitating of the resettlement was in fact completed through the channelling of funds earmarked for these Algerian refugees, but spent inside Algeria to help them start a new life in the areas from which they had fled. The funds were used to drill wells, to build homes, to build schools, and it was a very successful initiative. But, it was an exceptional resolution by the General Assembly. There was no change of the basic terms of reference of the Statute of the Office which obviously extends itself only to people who are outside their country of origin. So, I mention this because I believe it is food for thought. When we see the recommendation of Addis Ababa, we should also bear in mind the decision which the General Assembly might take in special cases without necessarily having to alter the basic Statute or terms of references of the High Commissioner.

The distinguished delegate of Morocco gave us a most inspiring statement. I was particularly touched by her appeal to finance the programme of the High Commissioner, when in the present age we are conquering space and the problems of science, developing techniques of warfare, we should also try to develop techniques to solve the refugee problem. One of the best techniques is certainly to raise the necessary funds from governmental sources to allow us to attain our objectives. I would like to say with reference to her statement about girls' centres in Africa, that in the rural settlements that we have been operating in Africa, there are many of these centres. They are in existence. We have not mentioned this in our report because it is one of the many aspects of rural settlement, but in fact these do exist. We have cottage industries, handicraft centres, co-operative centres, which are sometimes linked with the schools that we have built in these settlements and they are functioning well. I will bear in mind what she said, particularly about the problem of women and girls in these centres.

The distinguished representative of Rwanda stressed that money should not be given to refugees who then use that money to purchase arms. I would like to say that not only do we not give money to refugees with which to purchase arms, but also we do not give money to refugees. We give assistance through Governments in the host countries and this is true for all groups of refugees. We have not in Africa given individual financial grants to individual refugees. We have helped on global basis to settle communities peacefully and the funds are always administered in close co-operation with the Government of the host country and never handed out directly to the refugees themselves. Here again I would like to stress how much de deplore subversive activities in refugee centres, how much refugees who do engage in these sort of activities are not considered to be within the competence of the High Commissioner and how much we wish to settle people peacefully in Africa as elsewhere.

The distinguished representative of Uganda argued the case of the more widespread representation of the continent of Africa on the Executive Committee of my Office. I took note of his statement and of course of the amendment which was brought by Uganda to the resolution. I feel that this will bring us closer even to Africa. I welcome it. I sincerely feel that the presence of Uganda as an observer in the past in Geneva was very conducive to a clearer understanding of the problems of refugees in Africa and I would welcome their membership in the Executive Committee.

The representative of the United Kingdom stressed in her statement how much the United Kingdom appreciated the fact that we had succeeded in deciding in Geneva that we would have only one session of the Executive Committee per year instead of the two which we had in the past. I am glad this was referred to. I believe very strongly that through the constant association of my Office with the members of the Executive Committee, even outside of the sessions, that our work will continue to be given the full support of Governments and that the economy realized by having only one session a year, as stressed by the United Kingdom, will be in the best interest of our work and be in accordance with the decisions taken by the General Assembly in connexion with the number of meetings.

Finally, and begging your forgiveness for having taken a little longer than I anticipated to comment on some of these very valuable statements, I would like to extend my deepest personal gratitude to you for the remarkable way in which you conducted our debates and for your own interest and concern in our work and the solution of the refugee problem.

I also extend my thanks to the Vice-Chairman and to Mr. A Mohammed, the Rapporteur, for his collaboration and the devotion he never failed to manifest in our humanitarian work.