Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons: Summary Record of the Thirty-second Meeting

Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons: Summary Record of the Thirty-second Meeting

30 November 1951
President:Mr. LARSEN
AustraliaMr. BURBAGE
AustriaMr. FRITZER
BelgiumMr. HERMENT
BrazilMr. de OLIVEIRA
CanadaMr. CHANCE
DenmarkMr. HOEG
Federal Republic GermanyMr. von TRÜTZSCHLER
The Holy SeeMonsignor COMTE
NetherlandsBaron van BOETZELAER, Mr. LOHMAN
NorwayMr. ANKER
SwedenMr. PETREN
Switzerland (and Liechtenstein)Mr. SCHÜRCH
TurkeyMr. MIRAS
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandMr. HOARE
United States of AmericaMr. WARREN
VenezuelaMr. MONTOYA
YugoslaviaMr. MARKIEDO
High Commissioner for RefugeesMr. van HEUVEN GOEDHART
Representatives of specialized agencies and of other inter-governmental organizations:
International Labour OrganisationMr. WOLF
International Refugee OrganizationMr. SCHNITZER
Representatives of non-governmental organizations:
Category A
Inter-Parliamentary UnionMr. ROBINET de CLERY
Category B and Register
Caritas InternationalisMr. BRAUN, Mr. METTERNICH
Commission of the Churches on International AffairsMr. REES
Co-ordinating Board of Jewish OrganizationsMr. WARBURG
Friends' World Committee for Consultation.Mr. BELL
International League for the Rights of ManMr. de MADAY
League of Red Cross SocietiesMr. LEDERMANN
Pax RomanaMr. BUENSOD
Standing Conference of Voluntary AgenciesMr. REES
World Jewish CongressMr. RIEGNER
Mr. HumphreyExecutive Secretary
Miss KitchenDeputy Executive Secretary


The PRESIDENT wished, before opening the discussion on the draft recommendations for inclusion in the Final Act of the Conference, to draw attention to the draft Final Act (A/CONF.2 /L.4), which had as yet been distributed in English only. The Conference was not called upon formally to adopt the draft Final Act, which would be signed by the President and Vice-Presidents and would include those decisions of the Conference which did not figure in the Convention itself.

He would next call upon representatives to take a final decision on the two draft recommendations submitted by the United Kingdom and Belgian delegations (A/CONF.2/100 and A/CONF.2/101 respectively).

Msgr. COMTE (The Holy See) said that he had wished on behalf of the Holy See, to submit a recommendation for inclusion in the Final Act, but since he had not known that consideration of such recommendations would be on the agenda of the present meeting, he had not yet been able to prepare the text.

The PRESIDENT said that he would accept a recommendation emanating from the Holy See for consideration by the Conference at a later meeting.

Mr. HERMENT (Belgium) said he had received no instructions from the Belgian Government on the draft recommendation (A/CONF.2/101) submitted by his delegation, concerning the grant of authority by the General Assembly to the High Commissioner for Refugees to seek advisory opinions from the International Court of Justice, and would consequently provisionally withdraw it.

Mr. HOARE (United Kingdom) recalled that he had already explained, at the thirty-first meeting (see document A/CONF.2/SR.31, pages 4-5), the reasons which had prompted his delegation to submit its draft recommendation.

He would only add to that statement that the draft recommendation also urged governments to extend the issue of travel documents (under the Inter-Governmental Agreement signed in London on 15 October, 1946) to refugees as defined in article 1 of the Convention until the Convention itself came into force. That would be desirable both from the point of view of the refugees themselves and in order to avert legal difficulties, since the new instrument would extend the range of persons who might legitimately claim the status of refugee.

The United Kingdom draft recommendation (A/CONF.2/100) was adopted by 22 votes to none.

2. SECOND READING OF THE DRAFT CONVENTION RELATING TO THE STATUS OF REFUGEES (item 5 (a) of the agenda): Schedule and specimen travel document (A/CONF.2/L.1/Add.12)

The PRESIDENT, opening the second reading of the Schedule and specimen travel document, adopted on first reading at the thirty-first meeting (A/CONF.2/L.1/Add.12), explained that the Style Committee had adopted that text unchanged.

Mr. ROCHEFORT (France), speaking to a point of order, said that the style Committee had worked until 3.30 a.m. that morning and, although representatives were entitled to make any efforts they wished, the Secretariat had every right to rest and to consideration. The stuff which had serviced the Style Committee had made a heroic, indeed an almost superhuman, effort, and he hoped that the responsible senior officials would see their way to granting them several days' rest before they were called upon to service another conference.

The PRESIDENT expressed his gratitude to the French representative for giving him the opportunity of conveying that request to the representative of the Secretary-General. He was sure that in so doing he had the unanimous support of all representatives.

Turning to the text of the Schedule and specimen travel document, he drew attention to the second sentence on page 6 of document A/CONF.2/L.1/Add.12, which read: "The old travel document shall be withdrawn by the party issuing the new document and returned to the authority which issued it." It had been intended that that provision should be optional. He would suggest that the Conference might leave it to himself and the Secretariat to arrange some indication, perhaps by means of a footnote, to the effect that the provision in question was optional, not mandatory.

Mr. WARREN (United States of America) drew attention to the text of paragraph 12 of the Schedule, which required the authority issuing a document to withdraw the old one and return it to the country of issue. If the prevision in the travel document was made optional, it would no longer tally with paragraph 12.

The PRESIDENT suggested that an appropriate addition might be made to paragraph 12, to the effect that the authority concerned was requested to return the old document to the country of issue if that procedure was provided for in the travel document itself.

Mr. HERMENT (Belgium) recalled that at the preceding meeting the Conference had adopted the recommendation of the Working Group appointed to examine paragraph 13 of the Schedule and the specimen travel document, to the effect that such a provision should be inserted in the specimen travel document as an optional provision.

Mr. HOARE (United Kingdom) agreed with the Belgian representative, and recalled that in the Working Group several representatives had declined to support the suggestion that an old travel document should be returned automatically to the authorities of the issuing country. Such a stipulation would entail a considerable amount of routine work for Ministries of the Interior and Ministries of Foreign Affairs. Taking those difficulties into account, the Italian representative had agreed to the solution that an old document should be returned only if the issuing representative with regard to paragraph 12 was valid, and the Conference must choose between a compulsory and an optional procedure.

The PRESIDENT suggested that the difficulty might be solved by adding to paragraph 12 of the Schedule the following phrase: "if so requested in the travel document; otherwise it should cancel the old document."

He suggested that representatives should ponder that suggestion; in the meantime, the Conference could examine the Schedule paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1 to 8 inclusive of the Schedule were adopted, without comment, by 22 votes to none.

Mr. van HEUVEN GOEDHART (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) recalled that the second sentence of paragraph 9, reading: "The issue of such visas may be refused on grounds which would justify refusal of a visa to any alien.", had been added as a result of the discussion at the first reading. The interpretation, therefore, was that any laws applied to aliens in respect of the issue of transit visas would also be applicable to refugees. It seemed to him that the second sentence of paragraph 9 should be deleted.

Mr. HOEG (Denmark) formally moved the amendment suggested by the High Commissioner for Refugees.

Mr. de OLIVEIRA (Brazil) proposed that no amendment be made to paragraph 9 before the Conference had finished its examination of paragraphs 13 and 14, the provisions of which might make the deletion of the second sentence of paragraph 9 undesirable.

Mr. ROCHEFORT (France) pointed out that the second sentence in paragraph 9 was a natural corollary to the first. It was impossible to envisage the unconditional granting of transit visas, but that was what paragraph 9 could mean, in its present contest, if the second sentence was deleted.

Mr. MONTOYA (Venezuela) suggested that it was not the second sentence of paragraph 9, but paragraph 14 that was superfluous. It merely reiterated and amplified the content of paragraph 13, especially sub-paragraph 2 thereof. As to the issue of substance, he agreed with the French representative, and recalled that he (Mr. Montoya) had, in the course of the first reading, drawn attention to the serious difficulties which would arise if a refugee applied for a transit visa to a certain country, and then instead of proceeding to the country of final destination, remained in the territory for which he had been granted a transit visa only.

The PRESIDENT said that in order to take account of the views of the Venezuelan representative, he would rule that consideration of paragraph 9 be deferred until the Conference had finished its examination of paragraph 9 14.

Paragraphs 10 and 11 were adopted, without comment, by 23 votes to none.

Mr. HOARE (United Kingdom) said that the suggestion which the President had made earlier concerning the amendment of paragraph 12 was acceptable to him, but that he would prefer the following wording: "[The authority ....... shall withdraw the old document and] shall return it to the country of issue if it is stated in the document that it should be so returned; otherwise it shall cancel the document."

He formally proposed that paragraph 12 be amended in that way.

Mr. ROCHEFORT (France) emphasized the fact that the important principle was that the old document should be withdrawn and cancelled. Its return to the country of issue should be optional. What mattered was that old documents should not be misused, and that there should not be great numbers of them a bout.

Mr. HERMENT (Belgium) asked whether the obligation to withdraw the old document was not essential.

Mr. HOARE (United Kingdom) replied that his amendment affected only the final clause of paragraph 12. The first clause explicitly stipulated that old documents should be withdrawn.

Replying to the PRESIDENT, he said that he thought the English text was clear, as a document could not be cancelled unless it was withdrawn; however, he would not object if the second part of his amendment was modified to read: "; otherwise, it shall withdraw and cancel the document."

The United Kingdom amendment to paragraph 12 was adopted by 18 votes to 2, with 1 abstention, in the form finally suggested by United Kingdom representative.

Mr. FRITZER (Austria) assumed that it had not been intended to impose upon States the obligation to cancel old documents that had been returned. He considered, therefore, that the text of paragraph 12 as just modified by the adoption of the United Kingdom amendment would be clearer if the words "or cancel" were inserted after the word "withdraw" in the first clause, the last clause reading "otherwise it shall withdraw and cancel the document" being deleted.

The PRESIDENT pointed out that the United Kingdom amendment had already been voted on. He considered that the minor technical point raised by the Austrian representative could well be left to the discretion of administrations. The main issue, namely, the withdrawal of the old documents, had been satisfactorily disposed of.

Mr. FRITZER (Austria) said that he would not press his point.

Paragraph 12 was adopted unanimously, as amended.

Mr. ROCHEFORT (France) said that, although paragraph 11 had been adopted, he felt it necessary, on reviewing its terms, to point out that it did not appear to be altogether consistent with the provisions of article 23 of the draft Convention. The latter imposed on Contracting States an obligation to issue a travel document to a refugee lawfully resident in their territory, but did not restrict the issue of such a document to the State in which the refugee was resident. Paragraph 11 of the Schedule, on the other hand, laid down that when a refugee had lawfully taken up residence in the territory of another Contracting State, the power to issue a new document would be in the competent authority of that territory; it therefore implied that in those particular circumstances no competent authority in any other territory could issue the document. If the Conference agreed to re-open the question, he would propose that paragraph 12 of the Schedule be re-drafted to read:

"When a refugee has lawfully taken up residence in the territory of another Contracting State, the obligation to issue a new document will thereafter devolve upon the competent authority of that territory, to which the refugee shall be entitled to apply."

The PRESIDENT said that in the present instance he would allow the discussion to be re-opened. That should not, however, be regarded as creating a precedent.

Mr. MONTOYA (Venezuela) could not accept the French representative's suggestion. In the Working Group's discussions on paragraph 13, he (Mr. Montoya) had expressed reservations on behalf of the Brazilian, Colombian and Venezuelan delegations in respect of cases where refugees returned to a particular country without a visa, and had agreed to the wording of paragraph 13 subject to the conditions set forth in article 23. That point would not be met if it was made obligatory in all cases for the State in which a refugee took up residence to issue a new document. He had no objection to re-opening the discussion on paragraph 11, but considered that it was satisfactory as it stood. If a Contracting State refused to issue a new document to a refugee who had taken up residence in its territory, that person would not be able to leave the country concerned. He would therefore accept the suggestion that when a particular country received a refugee on a one-way ticket, that country should issue a document to enable the refugee to travel. Certain safeguards, however, were necessary, and that was the purpose of the special provisions laid down in article 23.

Mr. ROCHEFORT (France) observed that he had raised the point precisely because of its importance. It was clear from the conclusions drawn by the Venezuelan representative that the adoption of paragraph 11 as it stood would leave a considerable lacuna in the obligations of Contracting States towards refugees, and might well create a new class of refugees entirely deprived of the right to a travel document. The amendment of paragraph 11 in the way he had indicated would remove that anomaly, for in that case the paragraph would become an extension of the provisions of article 23.

Mr. HOARE (United Kingdom) was sure that no one wished to put difficulties in the way of the Venezuelan delegation. The latter, however, might, perhaps, be labouring under a misapprehension. The purpose of paragraph 11 was to prevent the issue of several travel documents to one and the same refugee by different authorities in different countries, and to make quite clear on which authority the duty to issue the new document devolved. He agreed with the French representative as to the mandatory nature of the provision in article 23, namely, that Contracting States should, on request, issue a travel document to a refugee lawfully resident in their territory. That provision was nevertheless hedged round by certain qualifications, and he believed that the intention was that what was laid down in paragraph 11 of the Schedule should also be subject to the qualifications laid down in paragraph 11 of the Schedule should also be subject to the qualifications laid down in article 23 of the draft Convention; it would be unfortunate if the wording of paragraph 11 were to weaken the provisions of article 23. Perhaps the Venezuelan representative's doubts in the matter might be met if paragraph 11 was revised to read:

"When a refugee has lawfully taken up residence in territory of another Contracting State, the obligation to issue a new document, under the terms and conditions of article 23, shall be that of the competent authority of that territory, to which the refugee shall be entitled to apply."

Such a text would make clear the extent of the obligation, and on which State the duty to issue a new document devolved.

Mr. ROCHEFORT (France) agreed to the United Kingdom representative's suggestion.

Mr. MONTOYA (Venezuela) wondered whether it would not be possible to re-open the discussion on article 23 itself.

Mr. ROCHEFORT (France) felt that there must be some misunderstanding. Surely the Venezuelan representative would not wish to see a situation arise in which the obligation to issue a travel document devolved upon a country in which the refugee was not a resident, while the country in which he was a resident was under no such obligation. But such would be the case if his point of view were carried to its logical conclusion. He thought that the United Kingdom amendment fully covered the position and should relieve the mind of the Venezuelan representative, since its effect would be to make paragraph 11 of the Schedule an extension of the provisions and conditions contained in article 23 of the draft Convention.

Mr. MONTOYA (Venezuela) was not satisfied that, where it was a question of an obligation towards a refugee, the original text was not preferable. If, for example, a European refugee came to Venezuela, the Venezuelan Government would be responsible for the issue of a travel document to that person; none the less, it might wish to refuse to issue such a document, and it should be in a position to do so if it so desired.

The PRESIDENT put to the vote paragraph 11 as amended by the United Kingdom delegation, it being understood that the matter could be re-opened if some other delegation or delegations found a more satisfactory wording.

Paragraph 11, thus amended, was adopted by 18 votes to none, with 3 abstentions.

The PRESIDENT, turning to paragraph 13, pointed out that, in order to avoid all misunderstanding, the word "paragraph" in the first line of sub-paragraph 2 should be amended to read "sub-paragraph".

Mr. MONTOYA (Venezuela) recalled the fact that the Venezuelan delegation's acceptance of paragraph 13 would be subject to the Conference's final decision on the wording of article 23 of the draft Convention.

Mr. HERMENT (Belgium) could not understand why there should be so much substantive discussion on paragraphs 11, 12 and 13 of the Schedule. After all, the Schedule dealt with matters of procedure, and the question of principle was covered by article 23 of the draft Convention.

Mr. MONTOYA (Venezuela) could not accept the Belgian point of view.

That the Schedule comprised a set of regulations was true, but, in his delegation's view, those regulations could not be regarded in the same light as regulations enacted at national level following the adoption of a bill, and paragraph 13 in particular must be taken together with article 23.

The PRESIDENT wondered whether the Venezuelan representative could not cover his position by abstaining from the vote on paragraph 13.

Mr. MONTOYA (Venezuela) speaking to a point of order, moved the adjournment of the debate.

The Venezuelan motion was carried unanimously.

The meeting rose at 1.10 p.m.