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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, 24 May 1994

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, 24 May 1994

24 May 1994

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me at the outset to thank those whose efforts have led to the convening of this extra-ordinary, emergency session of the Human Rights Commission.

I wish to thank Mr. Fall for his introduction and congratulate the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Ayala Lasso, for his initiatives. I can assure the Commission that my Office is ready to provide all appropriate support to them.

I also wish to thank the countries neighbouring Rwanda, who have been unsparing in their generosity in receiving those compelled to flee.

As the High Commissioner, Mr. Ayala Lasso, has eloquently highlighted, massive abuse of basic human rights and total disregard of international humanitarian norms characterize the crisis in Rwanda. I hope that the Commission will play a crucial role in averting further tragedy first, by undertaking renewed efforts to promote and ensure respect for basic human rights and international humanitarian law standards; second, by monitoring and investigating violations of these standards and third, by establishing responsibility for such violations and suggesting ways to hold the perpetrators accountable.

In a period of less that six months the region around Burundi and Rwanda has witnessed two massive refugee movements. The scale of the refugee movements, as well as the atrocities provoking them have few precedents. Today, UNHCR is protecting and assisting close to 1 million victims of these horrifying events.

Following the attempted coup d'état in Burundi in October and November last year, some 700,000 Burundis were compelled to flee to neighbouring countries. UNHCR mounted a major emergency assistance programme and I appointed a Special Envoy, Mr. Michel Moussalli, who was tasked with pursuing solutions to the Burundi refugee problem in cooperation with the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General and Governments in the region. The significant progress made was short-lived. After the events of 6 April, some 250,000 of the Burundi refugees who had fled to Rwanda last year were forced to move back and many others were massacred.

In addition, - UNHCR has had to mount an operation to provide life-saving material assistance to some 500,000 new refugees compelled to flee Rwanda for neighbouring countries. At the end of April, in one weekend alone, some 250,000 Rwandese refugees, half of them children, crossed the border into Tanzania. This group included some 40,000 refugees who fled to Karagwe in northern Tanzania. Many of them fled in overcrowded canoes, across the Kagera river, which has been bringing down corpses from the killings upstream. Even today, many of the refugees are still arriving with machete or bullet wounds. The situation has been made worse, as in many areas of Rwanda would-be refugees are being prevented from fleeing by armed groups.

The April exodus had been preceded by early warning signals, which enabled UNHCR to prepare for the dispatch of three emergency teams. I am pleased to report that by 28 April, when the mass influx to Tanzania began, one UNHCR emergency team was already on the ground in the Ngara region in Tanzania and emergency relief items had been pre-positioned in Tanzania. Another team was deployed to Goma in Zaire, and a third to the Mbarara district in Uganda. UNHCR staff who had been evacuated from Rwanda at the beginning of the crisis were redeployed to Burundi to assist both new Rwandese refugees and Burundi returnees, whose asylum in Rwanda had been shattered by the violence. With support from the British ODA, the Swiss Government and UNV, our total staffing complement in Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire is now over 200. In addition a senior UNHCR Officer participated the DHA-led missions to Rwanda.

Five new camps have been established in neighbouring asylum countries to cope with the influx. Response was and still is hampered by serious logistical difficulties. Drawing on stockpiles worldwide and with the support of France and the USA, we are mounting airlifts to Mwanza in Tanzania, to Goma in Zaire and to Bujumbura. We are concentrating on shelter, household items and clean water, as well as supporting WFP in supplying food. With the large concentration of refugees, sanitary conditions today pose the greatest threat. As in other emergency operations, the early presence, involvement and activities of numerous NGOs have been absolutely crucial.

To allow us to respond immediately to the April crisis, 5 million USD was drawn from the UNHCR Emergency Fund. An additional 5 million USD was made available from the Central Emergency Evolving Fund (CERF). On 9 May, UNHCR issued an emergency appeal for 56.7 million USD to cover the cost of our operations in the region for a three month period. The EC Humanitarian Office (ECHO) has indicated significant support, as have other donors.

The measures I have outlined have tested our emergency response capacity to the limit. Meanwhile, the influx into Ngara in Tanzania continues at a daily rate of 3,000 - 4,000 people.

My greatest concern is the fate of the 80,000 or so Burundi refugees still remaining in Rwanda and 15,000 Rwandese refugees who returned to their country earlier. There have been several cross border missions into Rwanda from Uganda and Burundi with a view to assess the possibility of providing assistance inside the country. UNHCR has participated in these missions, but, to date, security conditions have not allowed us to provide assistance inside Rwanda. We are aware that, in addition to the refugees, there are hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons in Rwanda, whose fate remains largely unknown. The DHA-led efforts to obtain humanitarian access to these groups is crucial both to alleviate suffering and to preempt further outflows of people.

In coping with humanitarian crises, timely emergency response and humanitarian action can alleviate human suffering to a good extent. However, to be fully effective, they must be complemented by energetic and decisive efforts to address the causes of flight and to prevent the spread of the conflict. It is clear that UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies cannot cope with further exoduses of people at the scale and speed we have witnessed until now. If further refugee flows are to be averted, then the international community must vigorously pursue the following five objectives:

1. Ensure respect for basic human rights and international humanitarian norms by all parties to the conflict in Rwanda.

2. Bring an end to the massacres and ensure complete cessation of hostilities by all groups, so that peace, security and stability can be restored, allowing refugees and displaced persons to return home.

3. Restrict the flow of arms and make further efforts to contain the present conflict so that it does not spread to neighbouring countries.

4. Guarantee free and safe access of humanitarian personnel and supplies to refugees and displaced persons, as well as other affected populations in Rwanda, wherever they may be.

5. Ensure safe passage for those fleeing from conflict areas, including where necessary, to asylum countries.

The recent Security Council resolution number 918 foreseeing an expansion of UNAMIR both in size and mandate is a significant step forward. UNHCR strongly supports the emphasis in the resolution on political initiatives on the basis of the implementation of the Arusha peace process. Incorporating these initiatives into a broader regional context is crucial to the containment and eventual resolution of the current crisis as well as to the prevention of its recurrence. The role of the OAU and of the countries in the region are absolutely essential in this respect.

The ultimate solution to the current humanitarian crisis remains a political one. I am concerned however, at the slow pace of the implementation of some of the measures that have already been agreed upon. The clock is ticking and each passing minute marks further tragic losses. Good intentions have to be translated into action on the ground, now. To this end, we count on the outcome of this emergency session of the Commission on Human Rights.

Thank you, Mr. President.