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Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems, First Session: Summary Record of the Third Meeting Held at Lake Success, New York, on Tuesday, 17 January 1950, at 3 p.m.

Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems, First Session: Summary Record of the Third Meeting Held at Lake Success, New York, on Tuesday, 17 January 1950, at 3 p.m.

26 January 1950

Chairman: Mr. CHANCE Canada
Members: Mr. CUERREIRO Brazil
Mr. CHA China
Mr. LARSEN Denmark
Mr. RAIN France
Mr. KURAL Turkey
Sir Leslie BRASS United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Mr. HENKIN United States of America
Mr. PEREZ PEROZO Venezuela

Representatives of specialized agencies:

Mr. WEIS International Refugee Organization (IRO)

Consultants from non-governmental organizations:

Mr. STOLZ America Federation of Labor (AF of L)


Mr. HUMPHREY Representing the Assistant Secretary-General
Mr. HOGAN Secretary of the Committee


1. The CHAIRMAN proposed the adoption of the following time table of meetings: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. Such a time table would apparently best meet the wishes of the various representatives, and would also enable really efficient work to be done both at the meetings and in semi-official discussions.

The time proposed by the Chairman was adopted.


2. The CHAIRMAN requested the Committee to continue its examination of the Secretary-General's memorandum on the status of refugees and stateless persons (E/AC.32/2). He proposed that the Committee should continue the discussion of the definition of persons to be covered by the convention.

3. Mr. PEREZ PEROZO (Venezuela) asked whether the discussion, and possible vote, would be on the wording of article 1 of the draft convention, or on the question of principle, i.e. whether the convention was intended to protect refugees only or refugees and stateless persons.

4. The CHAIRMAN replied that the discussion should be primarily on the question of principle, which was, in fact, the most important matter to be decided by the Committee. It was difficult to make a clear distinction between a refugee and a stateless person; many refugees were stateless, but many stateless persons were not refugees.

5. The convention which the Committee now proposed drafting should deal with refugees only, and the question of statelessness should be dealt with as the next item on the agenda.

6. Sir Leslie BRASS (United Kingdom) drew the Committee's attention to the fact that the next item on the agenda, to which the Chairman had just referred, dealt with "means of eliminating statelessness". Means of eliminating statelessness should not be confused with measures taken to protect existing stateless persons until such time as their position had been regularized, which was the final objective.

7. The convention which the Committee intended drafting should contain provisions covering stateless persons already admitted to a given country.

8. Mr. RAIN (France) agreed with the United Kingdom representative that the question of stateless persons raised two different problems: 1) the progressive elimination of statelessness; 2) measures to protect existing stateless persons.

9. The Committee could not refuse to include in the draft convention any provisions deemed likely to furnish existing stateless persons with every possible guarantee. The Committee could reach agreement on that matter without much difficulty. For example a special chapter devoted to facilities to be granted to stateless persons could be included in the convention relating to refugees.

10. In reply to the remarks made by the Chinese representative at the Committee's second meeting, be affirmed that there was obviously no question of depriving refugees who were stateless of the protection of the convention. It was extremely difficult to ascertain the exact position of some refugees from the point of view of nationality; it would be necessary to ascertain to what extent the refugee had been deprived or his nationality and to what extent he accepted that deprivation as final. The Committee, however, was not concerned with the question whether a refugee had or had not retained his original nationality. Whatever the refugees' legal position, the Committee's attitude towards them should be the same; they must be guaranteed international protection.

11. Having accomplished its main task, i.e., to ensure international protection for the refugees, who were in a particularly distressing situation in all respects, the Committee could undertake its secondary task, that of including in the convention provisions to cover stateless persons who were not refugees. That task was secondary in the sense that the situation of stateless persons who were not refugees did not raise any urgent social or humanitarian problems.

12. Mr. GUERREIRO (Brazil) said that two main points of view were observable in connexion with the scope of the proposed convention with the scope of the proposed convention.

13. The United Kingdom representative had suggested that the definition of the categories of persons to be protected by the convention should include all cases: refugees and stateless persons de facto and de jure. That proposal was obviously based on the logical consideration that there was a certain similarity in the position of refuges and that of stateless persons. It was nevertheless indisputable that refugees and de facto stateless persons were more unfortunately placed than de jure stateless persons, and it was therefore more urgent to remedy their situation. That was the first reason for limiting the scope of the convention to refugees and de facto stateless persons.

14. The second reason was that many Member States would be prepared to ratify a convention relating to refugees but might not be prepared to ratify one covering all categories of stateless persons.

15. It would be preferable to draw up a convention having a somewhat limited scope, reserving the right to extend it and make it as general as possible by adding successive protocols. That was the solution most likely to lead to a convention which would not be accompanied by an undue number of reservations.

16. Mr. PEREZ PEROZO (Venezuela) traced the development of the question of statelessness and refugees in the Economic and Social Council. During its ninth session, the Economic and Social Council had very definitely given priority to the question of refugees and had relegated the question of statelessness to a secondary plane. In its report to the Economic and Social Council, the General Council of the IRO had called attention to the fact that, since the IRO would terminate its activities is June 1950, it was urgent to ensure the continuation of the international protection of refugees. The Economic and Social Council had divided the question into two parts: in the first place, it had recommended that the General Assembly should appoint a High Commissioner for Refugees; in the second place, it had adopted the draft resolution submitted by the United Kingdom delegation establishing the Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems.

17. The Venezuelan delegation therefore concluded that the primary concern of the Ad Hoc Committee was the question of refugees. If the Committee drew up a draft convention covering all categories of refugees and stateless persons, there might be many reservations by signatories to the convention and considerable delay in ratification.

18. He felt that the Committee should not undertake too ambitious a plan and should above all seek to achieve positive results. Accordingly, it would be preferable for the convention to deal with the question of refugees and that the question of statelessness should temporarily be left in abeyance. That question should be studied in connexion with the problem of nationality, which the United Nations intended to consider.

19. Mr. LARSEN (Denmark) was convinced that all the members of the Committee sincerely sough to achieve concrete results. It seemed to him that the best procedure was to deal first with the question of refugees, without considering the question of nationality.

20. He shared the views of the representative of Venezuela regarding the advisability of giving priority to the statute of refugees. Once that task had been accomplished, it would be possible to consider the question of stateless persons. The question of statelessness was particularly important for European countries. For that reason he hoped that the Committee would achieve results in the matter of statelessness, but he again stressed the fact the solution of that question was less important than the solution of the refugee question.

21. Mr. KURAL (Turkey) stated that he had not yet received precise instructions from his Government on the question of the definition of the categories of persons that the convention was to protect. Nevertheless his present instructions enabled him to suggest that the definition should be limited to refugees and that the problem of stateless persons should be dealt with later.

22. The best conventions were those were acceptable to the greatest possible number of States. In that connexion, he called attention to the fact that the conventions on refugees and stateless persons drafted between 1921 and 1938 had not received many signatures and that some of them had never come into force because they lacked a sufficient number of ratifications. The same situation might arise again if the Committee were to present a draft convention covering too many categories of persons to be protected.

23. In the absence of further instructions form his Government, Mr. Kural would have to abstain if the Committee adopted too broad a definition. If his present instructions were modified, he would then either approve the definition which had been adopted or reserve the position of his Government.

24. Mr. RAIN (France) noted a divergence between the position of the French delegation and that of the Turkish delegation regarding the retention of previous conventions. In the opinion of France, one of the primary purposes of the convention which the Committee was called upon to draw up was to clarify as far as possible a very confused question. In the period between the first and second world wars, many conventions had been adopted, but some of them had not been ratified and others had remained in force only for a very limited time, so that even experts did not know exactly how the matter stood.

25. France considered that a fresh start should be made in connexion with refugees and stateless persons in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were obviously not new but nevertheless the United Nations had considered that such a Declaration was essential at the current juncture. Similarly, in the matter of refugees, what had so far been accomplished should be reconsidered in a more generous spirit.

26. The United Nations must mobilize its moral force to encourage all countries to ratify a truly liberal convention on refugees.

27. He realized that the Committee should not be over-ambitious and should above all seek to achieve concrete results; obviously the practical possibilities must be borne in mind. There was, however, a minimum which could and should be included in the convention in the hope that it would be ratified and applied under the aegis of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

28. The French delegation urged the adoption of a very broad formula which would avoid any reference to previous conventions and enumeration of the categories of refugees now contemplated. The definition to be adopted should be as all-embracing as possible.

29. Mr. KURAL (Turkey) explained that he had not meant to express doubts regarding the rights to be granted to refugees admitted into a country. he stressed the fact that for a long time Turkey had applied the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as in the recommendations set forth in the Secretary-General's memorandum on the status of refugees and stateless persons. The doubts which he had expressed related to the definition; if it were too broad, it would involve an obligation on the part of signatory States to admit into their territory refugees to whom they were not in a position to grant entry at that particular time.

30. He would state his position in greater detail when he had received specific instructions from his Government.

31. The CHAIRMAN, speaking as the representative of Canada, agreed with the representative of Venezuela in wishing the Ad Hoc Committee to begin by examining the problem of the refugees proper. It would be impossible, however, to avoid including among them refugees who were at the same time stateless persons.

32. The Committee could subsequently pass on to studying the much wider question of statelessness, and it might then contemplate working out two separate draft conventions, one of them dealing with de facto stateless persons and the other with de jure stateless persons.

33. It seemed likely that that method of working would be acceptable to all the members of the Committee, as the problem of refugees demanded priority.

34. Sir Leslie BRASS (United Kingdom) acknowledged that the problem of the refugees was more urgent than that of de jure stateless persons, but he thought that, since refugees were usually either de jure or de facto stateless persons, the difference between refugees and stateless persons was quantitative rather than qualitative. Theoretically, hardly ant distinction could be drawn between the treatment to be applied to refugees and to stateless persons who were not refugees. He therefore hoped that, despite the differences of opinion among certain delegations, the Committee would be able without too much difficulty to reach a solution likely to receive general agreement.

35. Mr. HENKIN (United States of America) said that his Government had well-defined views on the problem of refugees, which had been expressed in a draft definition of the term "refugee", which would be the subject of a formal proposal shortly to be laid before the Committee.

36. The problem of the definition of refugees was not a new one. It had already been examined at the time of the drafting of the Constitution of the IRO and subsequently in various committees and in the General Assembly, in which it had given rise to lengthy discussions on the question of the terms of reference of the High Commissioner for refugees. At the conclusion of those discussions, the Assembly had adopted a definition incorporating a list, which left the door open for the inclusion of new categories under subsequent decisions of the Assembly. The Committee would do well to follow that precedent, which had the advantage of providing a definition which could be adapted to any convention dealing with the problem of refugees.

37. The United States Government considered that the categories of refugees to which the draft convention under discussion should apply should be clearly enumerated. Since the responsibility of the United Nations would be committed with regard to refugees placed under its protection under that convention, the extent of that responsibility must be known in advance, and to that end, it must be known what categories of refugees would be admitted to that protection. Too vague a definition, which would amount, so to speak, to a blank check, would not be sufficient. As the representative of Turkey had rightly pointed out, any unduly inexact definition would be likely to lead subsequently to disagreement between the Governments concerned. Furthermore, it was perfectly reasonable for States signatory to the convention to wish to know precisely to whom it should apply.

38. The United States Government, therefore, did not consider that certain groups should be included within the framework of the convention, such as the approximately 600,000 Arab refugees for whom the United Nations had made special arrangements, nor the very numerous Kashmiri and Indian refugees. It was true that the existence of those groups raised a human problem of extreme gravity, but that problem could not be solved within the framework of the convention, which should in principle apply only to the IRO refugees. The same was true of the 8,000,000 persons of Central and Eastern European origin living in Germany, who, according to the definitions proposed by the United Kingdom and France, would become refugees placed under the protection of the United Nations. He did not think that the German Government should be encouraged to shift all responsibility for them to the United Nations.

39. Finally, it was inconceivable that the United Nations should undertake responsibility in advance for all possible refugees who might become such as a result of unforeseeable happenings in the future. Such an influx of new refugees who would be enabled by an unduly broad definition to place themselves automatically under the protection of the United Nations would give rise to administrative and financial problems of so great an extent that the High Commissioner would be overwhelmed and wholly unable to meet them.

40. The categories of refugees coming under the convention should therefore be clearly and specifically determined. That did not mean that the definition should be narrow nor that the field of application of the convention should be excessively restricted. The definition should simply be precise, so that the United Nations and the Governments concerned would know exactly to whom the benefits of the convention would be extended.

41. It was with that in mind that the delegation of the United States had prepared its draft article 1 (E/AC.32/L.4). Taking existing conventions and the Constitution of the IRO as a basis, it had sought to ascertain whether groups other than those covered by those documents ought to enjoy international protection as refugees. In doing so, it had kept in mind the danger of the uncontrolled extension of such protection, which would merely hamper the activities of the United Nations in that field.

42. The proposed definition covered four groups of refugees:

43. In the first appeared the so-called refugees of the first world war: Russians, Armenians, Assyrians and assimilated, the fate of whom had already been settled by previous conventions.

44. The second group comprised the refugees of the period between the two wars, the victims of fascism and Nazism: Germans, Austrians, Czechoslovaks, Italians and Spaniards. That was a clearly defined group, to whom the convention should apply in order that international protection should be extended to those among them who lived in countries which had not signed agreements concerning them previously made between certain States.

45. Thirdly, there was the group of "neo-refugees", the definition of which was broad enough to allow the inclusion of persons who had left their homes since the beginning of the second world war as the result of political, racial or religious persecution, or those who might be obliged to flee form their countries for similar reasons in the future.

46. The fourth group covered displaced persons and unaccompanied children.

47. Finally, persons who left their countries for reasons of personal convenience were expressly excluded from the category of refugees, and refugees who acquired a new nationality or returned to their country of origin ceased to be covered by the provisions of the convention.

48. A definition along those lines would leave nothing to chance and would enable the problem to be approached in a practical manner.

49. Mr. RAIN (France) thought that, although his Government's interest in the matter was not based on exactly the same motives as same those of the United States Government the text of article 1 proposed by the latter was not in itself open to criticism. The very first paragraph offered a solution of the problem raised by Turkey, by including in the convention refuges who had already been the subject of previous conventions or agreements. It was also the opinion of the France delegation that all conventions and agreements made between the two wars should be abrogated and replaced by the new convention to be drawn up.

50. The paragraph relating to neo-refugees seemed to be an important concession to the French point of view and the differences between the positions of the two Governments were perhaps not as great as they might appear at first sight. Obviously, everything would depend on the meaning given to the term "neo-refugees": if the expression covered all new refugees who were not otherwise defined, the United States proposal met the wishes of the French delegation, which asked that in addition to the categories already known, which might or might not be enumerated in the convention, the latter should also apply to other categories not covered by previous conventions and agreements. New categories of refuges not explicitly covered by the convention, and which might come into existence as a result of later events, must be able to benefit form its provisions. The world situation was such that it could not be predicted that countries which were currently model democracies would not in the future come under the yoke of an authoritarian regime whose persecution would cause a certain number of their nationals to flee. Justice demanded that the latter should be entitled automatically to claim the protection of the United Nations, and that there should be no discrimination between them and the existing categories of refugees. If the term "neo-refugees" was to include all new refugees victims of such persecutions who would thus be covered by the convention, the French delegation could only concur in that definition, but if that were so, it wondered why the term "refugees" need be defined at such length as it was in the United States proposal. A general formula of la few lines would be sufficient, without any enumeration of the categories.

51. He feared, however, that the attitude of the United States Government was in fact much more restrictive; that was probably due to financial considerations. As everyone was aware, the immense task carried ort by the IRO during the past three years had only been possible thanks to a great financial effort, largely provided by the United States, to which the deepest gratitude was due. It was therefore natural that they should hesitate to bind themselves by a convention which might apply to too large a number of refugees throughout the world and which would entail enormous financial sacrifices.

52. For that reason the approach to the refugee problem must now be different from that at the time the IRO Constitution had been drawn up. A distinction must be made between the legal protection of refugees and the problem of assisting them. The latter problem would certainly arise in the future, and France had already brought it up in the Economic and Social Council and in the General Assembly during the debate on the terms of reference of the High Commissioner: but it had them been understood that the two problems were to be kept separate and that there was no question of binding the United Nations or the United States, by the convention, to finance assistance to refugees in a new form. The attitude of the United States in the matter of assistance was perfectly reasonable. Just as it could not be decided that there would be no further assistance to refugees, since circumstances might render that assistance necessary, so the United Nations could not undertake the obligation of providing such assistance in the future either to refugees as a whole or to certain privileged categories among them. A decision on the question should therefore be deferred and it should be left to the competent organs of the United Nations to determine what might be done in that field, in accordance with circumstances.

53. On the other hand, in the sphere of legal protection, it was important that a minimum of rights should at once be granted, in the receiving countries, to all categories of refugees present and future, without creating privileged groups among people who were all equally deserving of sympathy.

54. Mr. HENKIN (United States of America) explained that his Government did not propose that any new future group refugees should automatically be included in the category of neo-refugees. The aim of the paragraph concerning them was to permit new groups to be included in the convention of desired, but by means of protocols, addenda or later agreements. The essential idea was that Member States should know in advance to what they were committing themselves by signing the convention. It would be advisable on a given date to close the enumeration of categories of refugees to whom the convention would automatically apply. Undoubtedly new categories of refugees might appear even before the General Assembly had approved the text of the convention. In that event the proposed date of 1 February 1950 could be altered, but the obligations of signatory States must be accurately defined and that could not be done unless the categories to benefit were fixed as at a given date. The States concerned could subsequently extend the scope of their obligations, but they could not undertake unlimited obligations in advance.

55. The attitude of the United States Government was not due to financial considerations, as suggested by the French representative. The problem of the protection of refugees did not exist in his country, a fact of which he was proud. All the refugees who were received there enjoyed a status almost equivalent to that of its citizens. What the United States wished to avoid was Commissioner by the automatic inclusion of an unlimited number of future refugees in the convention. For that reason the United Nations and the States signatories to the convention could not blindly undertake automatically to extend international protection of that nature could not be limitless; it must maintained within definite limits taking practical possibilities into account.

56. The CHAIRMAN noted that, on the whole, members of the Committee appeared to be in agreement on the aim sought: opinions varied only with regard to the means of achieving it. The Committee would first have to settle the question of principle raised by the Venezuelan representative: whether the field of application of the convention should be limited to refugees alone, and the problem of stateless persons should be taken up later. Next, it would have to choose a definition of the term "refugees" from the three solutions suggested in the Secretariat memorandum, the United Kingdom proposal (E/AC.32/L.2), the French proposal (E/AC.32/L.3) and the United States proposal (E/AC.32/L.4). The problem of definition was undeniably of the utmost importance; it should therefore be given mature consideration before a decision was taken.

The meeting rose at 5 p.m.