Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to UNHCR headquarters staff, 30 January 1975
I welcome you to our annual meeting and look forward to the opportunity of exchanging views with those of you who wish to put questions or make comments at the end of my statement.
At the outset, I should like to ask all of you to think for a few minutes a well deserved tribute has been paid to him already. Yet on an occasion such as this when we are all together, it is fitting to honour his memory which will be a source of inspiration to us in the future, because of his devotion to the cause of refugees and of the way in which he served their cause.
I wish also to welcome those who have joined UNHCR since our last General Meeting, and wish them every success and satisfaction.
As usual, I shall review some of the significant events which have taken place in the past year. Looking beck at 1974 we immediately see that the year has for us been overshadowed by two major events. I refer first to the developments in Lisbon, which brought about a monumental change in African and a significant development in the field of repatriation. In the next few weeks and months most of our efforts in that part of the world will be geared to facilitating the return of a very large number of refugees whom we have been looking after in the countries bordering Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Angola.
The other important development has been the tragedy in Cyprus. It seems both ironic and significant - and very typical of our work - that as one problem of massive human upheaval comes to an end, and people are about to return home. As they did in South Sudan, a new crisis erupts in another part of the world, again creating homelessness and uprooting.
The problems which we have tackled and which we are going to tackle in 1975 have been reviewed very carefully by our governing bodies: the Executive Committee and the General Assembly. I will refer later to their meetings and try to draw conclusions as to what these problems mean in terms of our work, particularly for 1975.
Let us begin, as usual, with our work in Africa. Here, the reason why we were in a key position to take the lead in arranging for the voluntary repatriation of the refugees from the former Portuguese territories, was largely because of the confidence which we had previously succeeded in establishing when dealing with the refugees from these territories. In the work we do, there is no clear-out beginning or end to any refugee situation.
If we are asked by governments to assist, it is because they have confidence in UNHCR. If we are accepted in countries where there have been large groups of refugees for many years, it is because we manage, despite the political hazards, to deal with refugees in a way which satisfies the host country.
Should a solution finally appear on the horizon, enabling people to go home, we are called upon to assist them in doing so, not only because the refugees themselves know us and the governments trust us, but in the case of the former Portuguese territories, because the Liberation Movements are in contact with UNHCR.
I recall some of our earlier meetings when we were asking ourselves what kind of policy we should adopt towards the Liberation Movements, at a time when the question was clearly controversial. Many of us felt, rightly, that the borderlines of humanitarian and political roles were dangerously close and should not be allowed to overlap; if UNHCR were to become controversial by dealing with Liberation Movements, we might weaken our humanitarian approach and with it the support we need from the international community. I think it is reassuring to see that it is precisely because we had such close contacts with the Liberation Movements and the OAU, the host countries where they were based and through meetings in the field and at Headquarters, that we succeeded in establishing confidence and understanding with these Movements, which are now called upon to assume the responsibilities of statehood in the countries formerly under Portuguese administration. It was therefore natural that thoughts immediately turned to UNHCR when the changes in Lisbon brought about the realistic possibility of a vast repatriation movement. The main problem we faced has been the number of requests for increased activity, involving more funds and the delegation of more staff to facilitate the return of refugees from Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Angola. This implied responsibility in enormous areas for a vast number of people, somewhat similar to the task in South Sudan conferred on this Office by the Economic and Social council and by the Secretary-General. It was therefore essential to define the role which UNHCR was to assume in this momentous chapter of African repatriation. Clearly, if we were to undertake the same tasks as in South Sudan, where we were responsible not only for repatriation but also for resettlement and rehabilitation, we would, I think, be over-extending ourselves. We had also to make sure, to avoid any misunderstanding, that the role of the other UN agencies was defined with equal clarity: if UNDP, for example, were to assume the main responsibility for future development assistance, the refugee component, which is ours, should be taken care of at the beginning, especially from the point of view of fund-raising.
Mr. Coat is at present in Guinea-Bissau, where he is working with the other UN agencies to achieve a co-ordinated approach, such as we strove to establish in the Sudan. The situation is, however, very different from that in South Sudan. In this case a smaller proportion of the population has been uprooted. In addition, the overall economic and social development of the areas concerned would be extremely costly and would take long time.
The role of UN agencies in providing multilateral aid may be more limited than in South Sudan, where the population was less dense. Moreover, bilateral assistance is likely to be of major importance in the former Portuguese territories: Portugal itself is playing a key role here. Clearly, as far as the refugees are concerned, we shall nonetheless have an important role to play. Much of what you will be called upon to do both in the field of assistance and to a great extent in the field of protection, will be geared in 1975 to Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique.
As far as Asia is concerned, the major event has been the development of our role in Indochina. Last year, I referred to this briefly. There again, we were not yet sure what the specific role of the Office would be. It is clear that to achieve anything of lasting value in the area, we require a minimum of stability, of security, of peace. Yet the martyrdom of the people of Indochina continues, despite the Paris Peace Agreement. Our main achievement has been that of being accepted by all parties - an encouraging development in that part of the would. Together with UNICEF, we are now working in North Vietnam, in South Vietnam, in the PRG-controlled areas of South Vietnam and in Laos, where we have a Regional Liaison Office headed by Jacques Cuénod, which is about to implement an airlift as a result of the peace agreement between the two sides. For the time being, it is a limited, special operation, implemented with the full concurrence and support of the Secretary-General. It has been examined and approved by the governments which have a special interest in the area, including the United States. There has been a generous response from a number of governments, who are making contribution to this programme. Apart from the satisfaction we may derive from helping people who have suffered much more than many other we may derive from helping people who have suffered much more than many other refugees in other parts of the world, we may also feel a sense of achievement in having gained admittance for the United Nations to an area from which it had hitherto been excluded - even in the humanitarian fields - an area where the Red Cross has faced and still faces many difficulties, and has sometimes been severely contested. The fact we have so far been able to negotiate a successful agreement with the parties concerned, to ensure its implementation through operational partners, to establish an office in Ventiane, is, I think, of great credit to all concerned, and testifies to the confidence which governments and the General Assembly have in UNHCR.
There will, of course, be many other problems in Asia. We are currently engaged in final preparations for a limited airlift to repatriate to Pakistan a number of non-Bengalis, belonging to the same group previously repatriated in the large-scale airlift of last year. One thousand will thus be moved soon from Nepal back to Pakistan. Another groups, cleared by the Government of Pakistan, will be moved subsequently from Dacca, once again at the request of the governments in the area. The funds for this special operation will have to come from special contributions. With the support of the Pakistani authorities, Mr. Volfing and Mr. Rizvi are now travelling in the Gulf area to raise the funds required.
While on the subject of Asia, I might perhaps mention that I had the opportunity at the end of the year to visit Japan just before my annual trip to the General Assembly. I hope that my visit and the numerous contacts I made will have served to clarify a little the position of UNHCR not only in Japan but in the area as a whole. I had the opportunity to meet a great many people in Tokyo who have positions of influence in the Far East and hopefully, this will contribute to further financial contributions. You will recall that Japan made a contribution of $1,000,000 to the Sub-Continent repatriation operation and that it is going to increase its contribution to the regular programme. In the present circumstances, the support of the Japanese Government is of great value for any agency working in Asia. I hope that this initiative will have contributed to a better understanding of the role of the Office in a part of the world which has been fortunate not to know or face any real refugee problem, and has not had the occasion so far to work closely with this Office.
In Latin America, we still face the sequels of the tragedy that took place in Chile in September 1973. We still have a large problem of Chilean refugees in Argentina and Peru, and a problem of reuniting the families that have been split as a result of the change in Child. This represents a tremendous challenge to the Office particularly to Mr. Koulischer and to our Representatives in the field, including Mr. Haselman at the Regional Office in Buenos Aires. Of all the areas of work of this Office, few give us such cause for concern in terms of the protection of individual human rights as Latin America. Not a day goes by without our having reports of refugees being refugees being arbitrarily arrested, assassinated, abducted, people being sent back at the border, people who were originally thought to have been accepted suddenly told to leave. This nightmare situation would seem to confirm that when countries face a degree of internal instability - when there is a breakdown of security when extremism appears, when people take the law into their own hands - the first to suffer are always the refugees and the other foreigners. This is a great challenge for the Protection Division and event more so for those people who are trying to protect individuals in the countries themselves. In Geneva the problem may appear somewhat theoretical; in so far as it is dealt with at the diplomatic level.
But for Mr. Haselman for Mr. Sicotte in Santiago and for their colleagues, it is a question of contact with the individuals concerned, with the local police chief, of visits to people in detention, to wives of the refugees who have disappeared, of arrangements for the departure of whole families. This is really the core of protection.
Since there are today over 25,000 Chileans abroad - over 15,000 in Argentina alone - we shall probably have to look closely in 1975 et the deployment of our staff in that part of the world. As the situation develops in Central America, the need for representation may become imperative. These are things which will be under close scrutiny in the coming months.
In the past one tended to believe that governments cared about their image.
When the press gave publicity to torture, lawlessness, to the systematic oppression of certain categories of people either for ideological or ethnic reasons, one supposed that the attitude of these governments would alter through sensitivity to public opinion, particularly international public opinion. But sometimes one begins to wonder. Maybe it is because some of the governments concerned are struggling for their own political survival, that the refugees and foreigners take second, third palace or worse. Or maybe it is because the world has become more callous, more indifferent, more complacent and that governments no longer care what is though of their behaviour outside. I'm saying this because it is good for us to remember how difficult it is to do our job in an atmosphere of this kind. We have not, I think, got the same facilities as we had in the past, when there was perhaps greater respect for the rule of law. The customs and traditions which came sometimes from the 19th century may have seemed obsolete, but from the ethical standpoint, they certainly maintained their value. Today these values seem to be vanishing in a number of countries, and the job of UNHCR becomes much more difficult. In a way what I've just said about Latin America is linked with what may happen to a number of refugees or persons who are de facto refugees, i.e. who face the same problems as those of refugees but who for one reason or another have not received or asked for refugees status.
In Europe we face a situation which is certainly not comparable to that in some countries of Latin America, but where the economic crisis is already affecting refugees. at the General Staff Meeting last year, the writing was already on the wall. We know that there was a recession, that a depression was likely to follow, and that there might be a serious crisis. The ominous signs we detected then are now increasingly apparent. In Germany for instance, the refugees are finding life increasingly difficult. In the past, work was easy to find even for refugees who were still awaiting a decision regarding their status, which could take a year, even two. They could support themselves meanwhile, sometimes with very good jobs. But now refugees are not allowed to work until a decision has been taken which makes it much more difficult for them to settle in the Länder, (i.e. the German statutes.). There is also sometimes a confusion in some people's minds between foreign migrant workers, who are told to leave and who can go back to their countries, and refugees, who have no countries to which to return.
A depression would undoubtedly affect refugees even more than the current recession. We could well be faced in the coming years with the difficult task of ensuring that refugees who for many years have been leading normal lives in European countries are not again faced with undue hardship. I hope the need will never arise to revive a kind of an hoc major aid operation. This would be a most unfortunate development, equivalent to turning back the clock. Yet it seems certain that UNHCR Branch Offices in Bonn, Paris, London, Rome will face increasing cases of refugees who may find themselves in serious economic difficulty in the future as a result of the present crisis. This will be a test, I think, for UNHCR, just as it is also a test for us to make sure that the refugees are not identified with hose elements that trigger off violence and unrest in many countries because this might provoke feelings of xenophobia against refugees and other aliens.
It was problems such as these that I discussed in Paris last fall, when I was privileged to meet President Giscard d'Estaing, the Minister of the Interior, and the Foreign Minister. Refugees, who have always been granted generous asylum in France, must not become the victims of events which are now occurring in France, as elsewhere. When acts of terrorism are carried out by extremists, refugees inevitably suffer more restrictions and closer scrutiny by the authorities. Our main concern must be to ensure that there is no forced repatriation, even if extradition requests are made. I intend to discuss this problem if necessary with other European governments, in an attempt to strengthen the principle of asylum against erosion such as has occurred in some countries in Latin America. It would indeed be paradoxical if governments with long traditions in the field of international refugee law, and which have helped to draft the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol, were led to accept the slow erosion of the humanitarian principles they fought so much to defend, while developing countries in Africa and in Asia were required to observe these principles more closely than those who originally set the example.
To mention Cyprus briefly: what we have done there is again a great credit to the resources and capabilities of UNHCR staff. All of you who are dealing with this problem directly or indirectly, particularly the Cyprus team - I'm thinking of Jack Kelly and his colleagues there, some of whom, like Mohammed Benamar and Nicholas, have returned to Headquarters - have done an excellent job in establishing our role as co-ordinator of international assistance.
This is yet another example of the widening of UNHCR's terms of reference, as embodied in successive General Assembly resolution to which I shall revert later. It shows that when facing the problem of displaced persons who clearly are not refugees in the legal sense of the word (these are Cypriots displaced in their own island) it is to UNHCR that the Secretary-General and governments tend to turn for assistance. The fact that were able to raise so promptly more than the 22 million dollars for which we appealed in early September, is again a sign of the confidence that governments have in our administration and of the skill of the fund-raisers: Mr. Volfing and his colleagues. To cover the needs of some 200,000 refugees between the end of August and 31st December, the money had to be found immediately, no easy task in the world today. Yet this has been achieved, and we are new about to launch a second appeal for another 10 million to bridge the gap until June/July.
I must admit that I was rather reluctant for UNHCR to continue its involvement in this tragic situation, but there was no choice. As the Cypriots themselves are well aware, the danger of perpetuation of the problem must be avoided. The danger in a situation of this kind, with regular appeal and provision of food, medicaments and blankets, is that in the absence of a political solution, relief becomes permanent. We must therefore think of ways and means of phasing out this operation. We do not yet know what will happen to the refugees whose future is obviously linked to the ultimate political solution of this tragedy, but clearly the Office should not become a permanent relief agency in Cyprus.
Apart from re-affirming our expertise in special operations of this kind, our role in Cyprus has again proved the capacity of UNHCR to maintain the confidence and the support of all sides. Cyprus has long been a very explosive issue, with big power interests involved, and permanent and bitter confrontation between Greece and Turkey, the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. The fact that we have been able to obtain the confidence of all sides, to establish an office in Nicosia with representation in the Turkish sector, to bring together the Greek and Turk Cypriots for regular discussions, is a tribute to the way in which the Office has carried out its task in that part of the world. This has also been recognized by the General Assembly, and I think the results achieved will contribute to facilitate our task of meeting the target of the second fund-raising exercise, and to enhance the confidence of the governments and of the UN system in UNHCR's capabilities.
In the Middle-East, we face an on-going problem. The need for an active UNHCR presence remains. The Branch Office in Beirut is concerned with the constant movement of a large group of people which must not be allowed to be blocked in any of the countries of transit. Furthermore, we are increasingly involved in the tragic plight of the Kurdish refugees who have been displaced as a result of the bitter confrontation between the Iraki Government and the Kurdish minorities. The problem has not so far been one of material assistance. Iran is looking after one hundred thousand Kurdish refugees, but its is not unlikely that UNHCR will have a bigger role to play in this area. Our action so far has been at the diplomatic level, but we are following developments closely.
What then are the lessons to be drawn from all this? What can we conclude from the discussions of the Executive Committee and of the General Assembly on UNHCR's activities? First of all, and for the first time, no real division is made between traditional refugees and displaced persons. This is a very important development, resulting from the application of the concept of "good offices". For the first time, the resolutions passed at the General Assembly's 29th session makes no distinction at all between the two categories, but refers to "those of concern to" UNHCR, meaning all who have benefited from our assistance either under the regular programme, or under the special operations. the door is therefore open for UNHCR to play a role which is institutionalized - constitutionally and officially accepted by the international community - in any situation affecting displaced persons, be they classical refugees or groups such as those in Indochina or in Cyprus.
The other significant development has been that, in parallel to the narrowing of the constitutional gap, the distinction between both groups has also diminished within the office, giving way to an integrated approach. In the past, when dealing with special operations such as the focal point in India and the South Sudan Operation, for which Mr. Jamieson was responsible, we had special units dealing with those particular problems. When dealing with the Asians of undetermined nationality expelled from Uganda, we also began by having a special unit; only later, as the people began to integrate in new countries, did it become part of the resettlement and regional sections. Now, in the case of Cyprus, we have not established a special unit, except of course in the island itself, where Mr. Kelly has a small team. At Headquarters, we deal with the displaced persons in Cyprus, as we are dealing with regular programme activities for classical refugees. to our governing bodies we report both on refugees and on displaced persons. Those of you who in the past felt, perhaps rightly that those dealing with special operations had a more exciting job at Headquarters than those dealing with the regular programme, no longer have cause for unease.
Governments have also been sensitive to these dual functions, and in the Executive Committee they queried our ability to cope with bout the special operation and the regular programme. I think they are also legitimately concerned with the question of control, for in terms of funds this Office has indeed been administering substantial amounts of money since the focal point operation in India. Adding up the financial components of these various operations - Focal Point", South Sudan, Uganda Asians, the airlift, Cyprus - one reaches an impressive total in terms of United Nations programmes even by comparison with the specialized agencies and UNDP. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the national treasuries and ministries of finance should ask their foreign offices or ministries of external affairs to ensure that members of the Executive Committee, representing governments, are satisfied with the High Commissioner's administration of this money, since the special operations had not so far been subject to their scrutiny. This concern was made that the time had perhaps come, in our own interest as well as theirs, for us to report on special operations as we do on regular activities. This is now agreed, and endorsed by the General Assembly. Our reporting to the Executive Committee on special operations does not mean that it has to approve the financial requirements involved. The Committee will continue, of course, its traditional role of approving the target of the regular programme and scrutinizing the activities under this programmes country by country.
A few statistics concerning the General Assembly: at the twenty-eighth session in 1973/74, there were 39 speakers speaking to our item. Last fall, at the twenty - ninth session, there were 58 speakers. The resolution on the programme and special operations was sponsored at the twenty-eight session in 1973 by 31 governments. It was accepted unanimously, as last year. At the twenty-ninth session we had 45 sponsors. The geographical base, involving a wide spectrum of regions and groups,, has therefore broadened.
This year, in addition to the overall resolution, which was accepted without objection, we had two slightly more controversial resolution: one on Territorial Asylum, the other on the establishment of a body to supervise the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Though I do not wish to go into any detail, I should point out that, whereas our assistance activities remain uncontroversial, governments are much more sensitive as regards protection, whether it happens to be a question of establishing a Convention on Asylum. Or of UNHCR's role as a body to administer the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. They do not attack the Office, but they are concerned about the way in which these legal instruments might affect them and infringe their independence, reminding us of the familiar problem faced by the United Nations on the question of the sovereignty of Member States. As a result, the resolution on Territorial Asylum - considerably modified to allow for a meeting of a group of experts to review the original draft Convention before its submission to a Conference of Plenipotentiaries - was adopted with 105 in favour, none against and 21 abstentions. On the question of having UNHCR act as a body to supervise the implementation of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, there were 48 in favour, 11 against and 66 abstentions. Since the Convention on Statelessness comes into force only in December of this year, we have been given no additional staff facilities to deal with this particular problem. However, while the greatest responsibility will undoubtedly rest with the governments that have ratified the instrument, at least initially, it will certainly impose more work on the Protection Division in due course and we will have then to see how it affects the Office.
Turning now to questions which are specifically related to staff and administration. Last year I had the opportunity to stress the need for a rotation of staff from Headquarters to the field and vice-versa, and regret that in this area we have so far made little progress. Junior staff have been much more willing, it seems, to go to the field than senior staff, many of whom apparently wish to remain in Geneva. Although I do not want to labour the point at this stage, rotation is an obvious necessity, for the only way to allow people to return to headquarters (some having served in the field for ten years or more) is for others to leave Headquarters for the field: there can be no movement otherwise. I realise of course that this is very much related to the problem of adjustments, and that this has cause considerable hardship on some of our colleagues. I have met many staff in the field who complain of this. It is not an incentive, of course, for those of you who are at Headquarters to go to the field where the post adjustments problem would impose a burden upon you and your family. Unfortunately, this is a problem that I cannot solve myself. It faces the UN as a whole, and the battle we fought in New York has so far given results which are far from satisfactory. It is linked to the problems of the overall economic situation, the state of UN finances, and the dollar crisis. The fight on this problem must therefore continue. Meanwhile, we should remember that those who have been in the field for some time have been living with this problem, and that it is a little unfair that it should always be the same UNHCR staff group to suffer
I also wish to mention the question of indefinite appointments - a problems which is of great concern to many of you. There has been some delay in settling this question, largely due to the fact that we were trying to work out acceptable criteria to determine when fixed-term appointments should become indefinite appointment should become indefinite appointments. These are now being put into practice. The new Appointments and Promotions Board, which is to start its work in mid-February, will thus be able to tackle the backlog so that staff members who have been waiting for some time to obtain indefinite appointments will soon be satisfied. I'm not, of course, in a position to say that all those of you who are presently on fixed-term contracts will automatically get indefinite appointments. I am afraid that this is not possible for everybody, as I trust you will understand. The essential aim at this stage is to reach fairly rapid decisions, on the basis of the new criteria, so that a staff member may be informed whether he may or may not reasonable expect an indefinite appointment. This is something we must attains, for people should not be asked to wait for ever.
I wish also to appeal once more to the Chiefs of the Regional Sections whose responsibilities are likely to increase as we gradually merge the special operations with regular work. It will be their task to ensure that there is no undue emphasis on the more interesting or challenging problems of the moment to the detriment of routine matters, but that letters are answered, notes for the file are properly drafted, and that staff are properly trained and briefed on their responsibilities. If this work is not done at the level of the regional sections, the work of the whole office will be in danger of collapsing. In other words, the routine part of our work must go on, event though we are obliged to face more and more special operation. This is particularly true of these operations involve sending staff to the field (Cyprus is the most recent example) le ving gaps that are hard to fill and an accumulated work load. If the Regional Section Chiefs are unable to such situation, the whole attempt to undertake special operations side by side with regular programme activities may be in jeopardy. I therefore ask them to beard this in mind, and intend to hold more regular meetings with them on this particular problem of the organization of their sections.
I am told that we are going to face a real problem in terms of space distribution. I know that this is tough news because many of you rightly feel that things are pretty bad as they are. However, form my recent talks with the Geneva Office, it would appear that UNHCR is considered priviliged in comparison with many other people in the Palais. It will therefore require some very imaginative thinking to solve this space problem without moving people to new premises, which I would like to avoid if possible. The new building is too small. This is a problem which, apparently, faces everyone in the Geneva office, and I must ask you to be patient and co-operation with the Administration when the time comes to review the allocation of office space.
I am also told that at a time of economic crisis, when costs are closely scrutinized, our telephone bills are extremely high and should be reduced. I must say that when reading memos, cables or telexes, I also feel that we should cut down on our amount of writing. In the old days, when communications were even more costly and difficult, they were kept very short. It was an intellectual challenge to try and compress one's thoughts, where expressed by cable or even on the telephone, into the most essential phrases. It seems to me that it was much easier for everybody to get work done this way. Maybe the fact that we have greater facilities at our disposal now makes us indulge in confusing and verbose messages - a thought we should try to bear in mind.
In the United States they have sign everywhere reminding people to turn off the lights when they leave their offices, in order not to waste energy. Maybe we should remember this when we use a telephone, a telex machine, or when drafting our notes.
May I also take this opportunity to extend my appreciation to all our General Service colleagues. If we succeed in doing our work, it is because of their co-operation. In this connection, I would also appeal to them to work out some kind of plan for sharing the burden of overtime, so that it is not always the same people who are obliged to work long hours. This brings me to mention the new system of working hours, whereby staff have been given the choice between 8.30 to 17.30 schedule, but this is precisely what we have to avoid. I would therefore appeal to you to observe the time-schedule you have freely chosen.
Finally, some of you may have seen in the press the recent report issued by the Ralph Bunch Institute, accusing the United Nations of allowing itself to be influenced by pressure from governments, ambassadors, ministries, to recruit Secretariat staff who are not of a sufficiently high quality and standard. I can safely say, that whatever the criticism levelled at some of the other members of the UN system it does not apply to UNHCR. The quality of our staff, the way in which you have responded to all the situations I have briefly reviewed, the confidence I know I can continue to have in you in 1975. Show that at least UNHCR cannot be accused of having resorted to so easy a way of pleasing governments. This, I think, is a credit to the Administration and to all of you. May I conclude by wishing you all once more a very happy and satisfactory New Year.