Note on International Protection (Submitted by the High commissioner)
1. Detailed information on the various developments in the field of international protection for the year ending 31 March 1968 has been included in the High Commissioner's Report to the Twenty-Third Session of the General Assembly (A/7211). This note is submitted in accordance with the wish expressed by the Executive Committee that the question of international protection be considered by the Committee each year. It gives a general outline of the matters arising in this field which, in view of their importance, deserve special mention. These concern asylum, accession to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and implementation of the provisions of these basic international instruments for the protection of refugees; international protection within the context of the International Year for Human Rights; certain significant developments as regards international protection in new areas of UNHCR activity, and the promotion of naturalization.
2. The High Commissioner attaches the greatest importance to asylum and non-refoulement. He is closely following developments in all parts of the world to ensure that the legitimate rights and interests of refugees are protected in accordance with generally recognized principles.
3. He welcomes the positive developments which have taken place in respect of asylum and non-refoulement and is grateful for the support which the principles relating to asylum have received from various sectors of the international community.
4. Of particular significance in this field was the unanimous adoption by the General Assembly at its twenty-second session, in resolution 2312 (XXII) of the Declaration on Territorial Asylum, which, inter alia, gives clear expression to the principle of non-refoulement, i.e., that no person entitled to seek asylum shall be subjected to measures such as rejection at the frontier, expulsion or compulsory return to any state where he may be subjected to persecution. The importance of the principle of non-refoulement was also stressed in the resolution on co-operation with UNHCR adopted at the recent international conference on human rights, held in Teheran in May 1968.
5. On the regional level, the principle of non-refoulement has found expression in resolution 67/14 on Asylum of Persons in Danger of Persecution, which was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in June 1960. In October 1967, the Conference on the Legal, Economic and Social Aspects of African Refugee Problems, held in Addis Ababa, agreed that African States should be guided in the granting of asylum by the principles embodied in the 1951 Convention and that African States should be invited to share the burden with countries of asylum in Africa.
6. The High Commissioner is gratified to note that many countries in Africa continue to follow generous asylum policies in spite of the economic burden resulting from the admission of refugees and that in many other countries persons are currently being granted asylum in accordance with very liberal criteria.
The 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees
7. Fifty-three States are now parties to the 1951 Convention. Since the preparation of the High Commissioner's Report to the General Assembly (A/7211), nine further States have acceded to the 1967 Protocol: Cyprus, Greece, Guinea, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Nigeria, Switzerland and Turkey, bringing the total number of parties to 20. In a number of other States, the procedure for accession has been initiated or the question is under active consideration.
8. This widespread accession to the Convention and the Protocol confirms their basic significance as international instruments for the protection of refugees and serves to strengthen their universal character. The High Commissioner very much hopes that further States will accede to these instruments in due course. It is a source of satisfaction to him that the recent International Conference on Human Rights adopted a resolution calling upon States to accede to the Convention and the Protocol and that, on a regional level, similar resolutions have been adopted by the Organization of African Unity and the Organization of American States.
9. In view of the number of States now parties to the Convention and the Protocol, the need has made itself felt for UNHCR to receive from Governments more detailed information in respect of the implementation of the provisions of these two instruments. This need was recognized by the Committee at its eighteenth session, when it expressed the hope that Governments would be prepared to support measures to this effect (A/AC.96/386, para. 48 (h)). The Office is devoting further study to this matter and, in consultation with the International Labour Office, is preparing a standard questionnaire for the attention of Governments.
International Year for Human Rights
10. In his report to the General Assembly, the High Commissioner emphasized the importance he attaches to the International Year for Human Rights which he hopes will serve to focus attention on the special problems confronting refugees (paragraph 61). It is, therefore, a source of considerable encouragement that the special problems of refugees have been taken into account in arrangements made for Human Rights Year in a number of countries and that concrete measures for the benefit of refugees have been taken or are being planned by various Governments in Human Rights Year.
11. The High Commissioner attended the International Conference on Human Rights which met at Teheran from 22 April to 13 May 1968. In his address to the Conference he referred, inter alia, to the important question of asylum and expressed the hope that States would bring their legislation into line with the humanitarian principles embodied in the Declaration on Territorial Asylum and in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He also stressed the importance of facilitating voluntary repatriation and promoting family reunion and the naturalization of refugees. The Conference adopted a resolution on co-operation with UNHCR in which, in addition to stressing the importance of the principle of non-refoulement, it called upon States to accede to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol. The text of this resolution is given in Annex I to this document.
12. The High Commissioner hopes that the impetus provided by Human Rights Year will continue to yield positive results and that the year will contribute in a practical manner to the improvement of the legal status of refugees, e.g., by the wide acceptance and strengthening of the principles embodied in the Declaration on Territorial Asylum and in the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol.
Growing importance of international protection in new areas of UNHCR activity
13. Various recent developments have shown the growing importance of international protection in new areas of UNHCR activity, especially in Africa. It will be recalled that in the early stages of the Office's action on behalf of refugees in Africa, the most pressing need was for material assistance, and the specifically legal problems of refugees were therefore of lesser urgency. In many respects, refugees received de facto the same treatment as the indigenous population. In the absence of legislation dealing with matters such as the right to work, social security, etc., the problem of ensuring that the position of refugees was also taken into account on the legal plane often did not arise. Moreover, owing to the size of the groups involved, it would have been impracticable to resort to individual eligibility determination. Thanks to the liberal asylum policies of African States, refugees were generally admitted in large groups which could be settled on the land and readily assimilated within their own or related ethnic groups.
14. Since the initial phase of UNHCR activities in Africa, there are increasing numbers of refugees, especially those living in towns, for the solution of whose problems the establishment of appropriate legal standards is necessary, e.g., to enable them to engage in gainful occupations or to obtain documentation to travel abroad for study or resettlement. Moreover, as the legal infrastructure further develops in many African countries there is a resulting need in this context to take the special position of refugees into account. In various African countries, legislative or administrative measures aimed at improving the legal status of refugees are in preparation or have already been adopted and UNHCR has to an increasing extent been consulted as regards such measures, e.g., legislation for the implementation of the 1951 Convention or the issue of identity and travel documents. The importance attached by African States to providing refugees with an adequate legal status is shown by the number of accessions by African States to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol and is clearly apparent from the various recommendations adopted by the Conference on the Legal, Economic and Social Aspects of African Refugee Problems, held in Addis Ababa in October 1967.
15. These various developments point to a definite need for the Office to intensify its legal protection activities in Africa. This could be achieved by arranging for legally qualified staff to be stationed in areas where UNHCR is represented. Where this is not possible by appropriate adjustments within existing legal staff, the need for qualified jurists in these areas will have to be borne in mind when new staff are recruited. Such staff adjustments should not, of course, lead to any neglect of the function of international protection in other areas.
Promotion of naturalization of refugees
16. One of the aims of UNHCR is, of course, to promote measures whereby refugees finally cease to be refugees by acquiring the nationality of the countries where they reside, thus removing the anomaly of a large refugee population which is for all practical purposes integrated, but without assuming the full rights and duties of citizenship. It will be recalled in this connexion that Article 34 of the 1951 Convention calls upon Contracting States to facilitate as far as possible the assimilation and naturalization of refugees and, in particular, to make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce their cost. The Office is devoting particular attention to the question of naturalization with a view to increasing the refugees' awareness of the advantages of the acquisition of the nationality of their country of adoption. At the same time, the Office is co-operating with Governments in order to promote measures for facilitating the naturalization of refugees by relaxing the criteria, easing formalities and reducing fees. The High Commissioner very much hopes that Governments will support these efforts to promote naturalization as the final step in the integration of refugees.
ANNEX I RESOLUTION V: CO-OPERATION WITH UNHCR
Adopted by the International Conference on Human Rights, Teheran 22 April - 13 May, 1968
The International Conference on Human Rights,
Recalling Resolution 428 (V) of 14 December 1950, in which the General Assembly called upon Governments to co-operate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the performance of his functions concerning refugees falling under the competence of his office, especially by:
(a) becoming parties to international conventions providing for the protection of refugees, and taking the necessary steps of implementation under such conventions;
(b) entering into special agreements with the High Commissioner for the execution of measures calculated to improve the situation of refugees and to reduce the number requiring protection;
(c) admitting refugees to their territories, not excluding those in the most destitute categories;
(d) assisting the High Commissioner in his efforts to promote the voluntary repatriation of refugees;
(e) promoting the assimilation of refugees, especially by facilitating their naturalization;
(f) providing refugees with travel and other documents, especially documents which would facilitate their resettlement.
1. Considers that in the present international Year for Human Rights, all Governments should concern themselves with the situation of refugees in the world, particularly with regard to matters referred to in the above-mentioned preamble;
2. Calls upon Governments which have not yet done so to accede to the international instruments dealing with the protection of the rights of refugees and especially to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, of 28 July 1951, and the Protocol to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 31 January 1967;
3. Affirms the importance of the observance of the principle of non-refoulement embodied in the above-mentioned instruments and in the Declaration on Territorial Asylum adopted unanimously by the General Assembly in December 1967.