Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Refugees Magazine Issue 111 (Universal Declaration of Human Rights 50th Anniversary) - Refugees and Human Rights Chronology

Refugees Magazine Issue 111 (Universal Declaration of Human Rights 50th Anniversary) - Refugees and Human Rights Chronology
Refugees (111, I - 1998)

1 March 1998
A history of human rights and refugees.


August 20, 1921:

The League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations, appoints Norwegian scientist and explorer Dr. Fridtjof Nansen as the first High Commissioner for Refugees, marking the start of the modern international system for protecting refugees. Nansen receives the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of refugees and other displaced peoples.


The High Commissioner introduces the so-called Nansen Passport, the first internationally recognized travel document for refugees which facilitates their repatriation or settlement in another country.

December 10, 1948:

The United Nations General Assembly proclaims the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and urges member states to "cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."

January 1, 1951:

The General Assembly establishes the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees after approving its working statute the previous month. The new organization would be humanitarian and non-political. The office's first task is to help more than one million people who are still displaced in the wake of World War Two, mainly in Europe, and its first mandate is limited to three years.

July 28, 1951:

The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is adopted, consolidating earlier international instruments and providing the most comprehensive codification of refugee rights in history. The Convention will be applied without discrimination to race, religion or country of origin. Significantly, the Convention is limited to persons who became refugees before January 1, 1951.

January 31, 1967:

Human rights abuses spread across the globe and huge new refugee populations are created in Hungary, Algeria and other parts of Africa. A Protocol to the Refugee Convention is adopted, crucially extending protection to all refugees whatever the date they were forced to leave their homes.

September 10, 1969:

Africa has become the global epicentre for refugees with 700,000 displaced peoples, and at a summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), nations adopt a Convention urging even greater generosity and assistance for refugees. The OAU Convention includes people forced to flee because of aggression, foreign occupation or domination or events disturbing public order.

December 10, 1984:

Ten Latin American governments adopt the Cartagena Declaration, part of an enlightened trend toward expanding international protection and humanitarian assistance to victims of armed conflict and human rights abuses. It is tailored to meet the specific needs of people in Central America.


UNHCR is assisting more than 22 million people worldwide whose human rights have been abused and the total number of uprooted people around the world approaches 50 million. UNHCR now operates in 122 countries with a staff of more than 5,000 people.

Source:Refugees Magazine issue 111 (1998)