Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Introductory Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Standing Committee of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 30 January 1996

Speeches and statements

Introductory Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Standing Committee of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 30 January 1996

30 January 1996

Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to welcome you all to this first meeting of the Standing Committee. May I say how pleased I am, Ambassador Mchumo, to be able to benefit from your presence as our Chairman today, especially when my Office is deeply preoccupied by events in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Your insight and expertise as the representative of a major asylum country in that region will be an invaluable support to us in the months ahead.

In surveying the international refugee situation, I would like, Mr. Chairman, to begin 1996 on a note of hope. Although 1995 saw new displacements, not least in Afghanistan, Chechnya, former Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone and southern Sudan, we have been spared new humanitarian emergencies of the scale experienced in recent years. In many parts of the world, from Mozambique to Mali and Togo, from Tajikistan to Myanmar, solutions have continued to be consolidated. Elsewhere a number of seemingly intractable conflicts - be they in Angola, Liberia or most recently Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina - have witnessed a new impetus to peace. However, even in the most fervent hope there must be caution. If 1995 has provided some indications of increased international stability, bitter internal conflicts continue to rend the fabric of entire societies.

Nowhere, Mr. Chairman, is this so apparent as in the Great Lakes region of Africa which has been engulfed by a situation of continuous instability for over two years. During the past months, we have witnessed a deteriorating situation throughout the region.

Regrettably, the momentum we achieved in return to Rwanda last September could not be maintained. Various forms of intimidation in the camps and new security incidents in Rwanda contributed to the stalling of repatriation movements, whereas cross border information and confidence building visits were slow to get off the ground. It was against this background that I convened a second Tripartite Commission meeting with representatives of Zaire and Rwanda in Geneva in late December. The parties reaffirmed commitments made and agreed on the need to take measures to give a new impetus to repatriation. However, no breakthrough could yet be achieved in the rate of return. I am also concerned with the decision to phase out the presence of UNAMIR by March this year, as this may give a wrong signal to the refugees.

I am convinced that, at the humanitarian level, we are doing all that is possible to facilitate and promote repatriation, on a voluntary basis. In the course of 1995 my Office tried every conceivable strategy and approach within the framework of its mandate and competence, through the Bujumbura Conference, tripartite agreements as well as bilateral initiatives. I made two trips to the region, in February and in September 1995. Our objective, the peaceful return and reintegration of all Rwandans will, however, remain elusive as long as all concerned do not unequivocally fulfil their commitments under the Bujumbura Plan of Action and the agreements reached in the context of the Tripartite Commission meetings of September and December last year. We will continue to work with the Governments involved towards the implementation of these agreements.

Meanwhile, the situation in Burundi is desperate and deteriorating day by day. In a climate of violence and growing polarization, the country risks sliding into a full fledged civil war. By the end of December escalating inter-ethnic conflict and attacks on aid agencies resulted in the evacuation of most international staff from the regions concerned. At the same time, they provoked new refugee flows in the direction of Tanzania, Zaire and Rwanda, as well as additional internal displacement. The withdrawal of the ICRC and WFP, which had been directly targeted, as well as of other key implementing partners, seriously undermined assistance programmes for refugees and the internally displaced, as well as repatriation efforts.

It was in this context that, on 7 and 8 January, I undertook a mission to Burundi at the request of the Secretary-General with a view to defusing the security situation and allowing humanitarian organizations to resume their activities. The environment in which humanitarian agencies are working, without the protection of a United Nations peace-keeping presence, is a cause for profound concern. I received assurances from the Government for the safety of humanitarian personnel and I submitted a number of recommendations to the Secretary-General on urgent security measures. Some of the NGOs have returned to their projects and UNHCR has been delivering food both to refugees and internally displaced persons. However, the fundamental problem of insecurity tied to political conflict remains unresolved. I am more than ever convinced that only a major political initiative can prevent another tragedy and promote durable peace in the Great Lakes region.

In a new development in the third week of January, violence in Burundi spilled over to the Mugano camp for Rwandan refugees in the north of the country forcing its 15,000 residents to flee to Tanzania. There they received sanctuary, although the Tanzanian border had been closed since March 1995. After panic and confusion spread to the neighbouring Ntamba camp, an additional 16,000 Rwandans fled to the Tanzanian border. Their huts were destroyed. The group remained stranded for three days at the border. Since then some of them could be persuaded to return to the camp, whereas only 140 persons volunteered to repatriate to Rwanda. All the others were eventually admitted to safety in Tanzania, on humanitarian grounds. I should like to thank the Tanzanian Government wholeheartedly.

These developments add to my deep concern regarding the burden that continues to weigh on asylum countries in the region. Together with UNDP, my Office proposed last week a $70.5 million programme to repair damage to the environment and infrastructure in countries hosting Rwandan refugees. We will soon be seeking pledges for specific projects and I strongly urge the donor community to show solidarity with the hard-pressed countries of the region which cannot be expected to cope alone with the longer term consequences of refugee influxes.

If the situation in the Great Lakes region of Africa, Mr. Chairman, has been a source of profound concern, the signing of the peace agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina in December last year has been greeted by my Office with a sense of indescribable relief. But it is relief tempered by the realization that the road to lasting peace is a long and hazardous one that presents challenges every bit as daunting as those we have faced in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Let me state in this context that I am encouraged by the thus far successful implementation of the military provisions of the Peace Agreement. This is a very good sign. At the same time, however, I continue to be concerned about the situation in Sarajevo, and in Mostar and other parts of the Bosniac-Croat Federation where there has been no progress in the return of displaced persons to their home areas.

My Office has been engaged in an intensive dialogue with Governments, NGOs and intergovernmental institutions with a view to agreeing on a return plan for the over two million internally displaced and refugees. We have been forging new links with NATO, the World Bank and the OSCE, as our plan depends upon security, rehabilitation, protection of human rights and the establishment of democratic political institutions. The general outline and underlying principles were shared with a senior level meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group on 16 January, which many of you attended. Further efforts are being made to turn this plan into a full operational blueprint.

If the peace implementation is to be firmly anchored, we must move quickly to get housing repair off the ground. Following our discussions with the World Bank, my Office is therefore launching, within the overall framework of its revised programmes for 1996, a Trust Fund for Shelter Assistance to jump-start housing repairs as soon as possible. This activity will be discontinued and merged into the World Bank's efforts once they get underway. I was pleased with the support for this initiative voiced by many delegations during the 16 January meeting.

I believe that all participants at that meeting realized that, however expedient and forceful we should be in pursuing our objectives, including the early return of refugees and internally displaced persons, the process of confidence and peace building will take time and must be pursued with a considerable degree of caution. The social and psychological reconstruction of Bosnia will be at least as important as the rebuilding of its physical infrastructure. The repatriation of refugees to a place of their choice in Bosnia and Herzegovina should take place not only on a voluntary basis at this stage, but also as much as possible in an organized manner following regular consultations within the multilateral framework that my Office intends to ensure.

I have been reassured that this approach will be endorsed by the host Governments concerned. There was broad agreement with our priority attention for the return or relocation of the internally displaced. This would, however, not exclude simultaneous assistance to refugees from neighbouring States and from further away disposing of private accommodation. The lifting of temporary protection would depend on clear objective benchmarks and would be implemented in a phased manner. Allowance should be given to individual circumstances and local situations. Throughout the process, we must be realistic. Whereas we should aim for sizeable return movements to take place already during 1996, we expect the entire operation to last for at least two years.

Elsewhere too, Mr. Chairman, I see opportunities for solutions. Nine million refugees have returned home in the last five years. Given the necessary political will, I am hopeful that 1996 will continue to see large numbers of refugees and displaced persons returning home in peace and security.

In Africa, we are continuing to consolidate the return of over 1.6 million Mozambican refugees through the implementation of quick impact projects and are building systematic linkages with development agencies and various bilateral and NGO partners. Meanwhile, in conjunction with the pace of the peace process in Angola, we will move ahead with the repatriation of over 300,000 refugees and we intend to issue a revised appeal for their return and reintegration in the course of next month. Repatriations to Togo and Mali are also moving ahead. At the same time, we have been preparing for the long awaited return of over three quarters of a million refugees to Liberia, though delays in the implementation of certain aspects of the August 1995 peace agreement have continued to prevent access to major returnee areas. Full deployment of ECOMOG peace-keepers to demobilize the different armed factions is an essential prerequisite for a successful repatriation initiative.

In Central America, we are continuing our efforts to provide solutions for the remaining 38,000 Guatemalan refugees in Mexico. Generally speaking, the peace process has moved ahead, though not without setbacks including loss of life among returnees. An agreement on indigenous rights has been added to earlier agreements on a timetable for peace negotiations, human rights and resettlement of uprooted populations. This, together with the elections held in November 1995, is expected to boost repatriation in 1996. Meanwhile the Mexican authorities have announced their agreement to allow the legalization of the local integration of Guatemalan refugees not wishing to repatriate, thus opening up another front for durable solutions.

In Asia, we are continuing to consolidate solutions. We hope to conclude voluntary repatriation to Myanmar by the end of the current dry season, though we will continue reintegration efforts in Myanmar itself where we have full access to returnees. Meanwhile, however, some 40,000 Vietnamese remain in South-East Asia, caught in an impasse brought about by revived expectations of resettlement. While fully supportive of efforts to regain the repatriation momentum and find durable solutions for the few remaining refugees, my Office will, in accordance with the conclusions of the recent meeting of the CPA Steering Committee, phase down its care and maintenance assistance to non-refugees in ASEAN countries as of 1 July 1996. Other appropriate measures will be taken in respect of Hong Kong. I am also confident that a solution for the remaining Lao population at the Ban Napho camp in Thailand is in sight. We will, of course, continue our reintegration and monitoring activities in Viet Nam and the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

Meanwhile, in collaboration with other UN agencies, we are pursuing our strategy in Afghanistan to improve conditions through the implementation of quick impact projects that promote local stability and support the continued return of refugees and displaced persons to their areas of origin. Having attained our principal objectives in Tajikistan we have continued to harmonize our activities with the UNDP Action Plan, in order to ensure the transition to longer-term rehabilitation and development. The OSCE has successfully taken over the monitoring of the treatment of returnees and internally displaced persons and liaises with my Office when needed. Meanwhile, we have continued to develop our preventive strategy in Central Asia assisting in institution and capacity building, and promoting the establishment of legislation which could effectively deal with regional population movements.

At the forefront of our preventive efforts lie ongoing preparations for the regional conference on displacement in the CIS and relevant neighbouring States which is now anticipated to take place towards the end of May this year. I am pleased to say that, in the last quarter of 1995, the preparatory work gained momentum with a second round of sub-regional meetings leading up to the Steering Committee and Meeting of Experts held in Geneva last week. The official Drafting Committee has now begun to work on the Declaration of Principles and Programme of Action, prepared by the Secretariat. I hope that all participating States and institutions will pursue this process with enthusiasm, so as to turn the Conference into a success.

Mr. Chairman, in the post Cold War era, humanitarian action has undergone far-reaching changes. It often takes place in conflict zones and increasingly combines relief with human rights protection. The boundaries of humanitarian activities are becoming less sharp as they increasingly extend into peace-keeping, development, governance, human rights and even environmental policies. The more proactive approach to solutions and prevention that has been adopted by my Office has led to increased involvement in countries of origin and collaboration with a wide range of actors from the political and development arenas. Such an approach is, I believe, indispensable if we are to address contemporary problems of displacement effectively. Nevertheless, many questions arise as to just how far my Office should proceed and how it can best interface with other institutions in order to ensure, through concerted and efficient approaches, that solutions are sustainable and that preventive efforts are effective.

The complexity of the issues involved means also that my Office needs to continue to reinforce its capacity for strategic thinking. I have appointed Mr Vieira de Mello as Assistant High Commissioner to ensure an integrated approach between strategic development, policy planning and operations. In this context I have asked for a review of our policies on a number of important issues, such as our role in countries of origin, including post-conflict activities, conditions for voluntary repatriation, as well as temporary protection. To reinforce our policy research capacity in the face of the complex new challenges confronting us, I have also decided to establish at Headquarters a Centre for Documentation and Research. It will incorporate the former CDR and a number of other attempts in the fields of research and policy development, including the publication of the State of the World's Refugees. This should provide a powerful tool both in the planning of policy and in the support of operations.

At the same time, we are attempting to restructure the way we work so as to further improve our performance. I have initiated a comprehensive management review, which I have asked the Deputy High Commissioner to follow closely to ensure continuous senior management support. Mr. Walzer will be briefing you on this important process later in our meeting today. Suffice it for me to say that, with the involvement of all staff, our working methods and procedures are being submitted to critical scrutiny with the aim of improving delivery, increasing productivity and reducing costs.

The development of forward looking strategic thinking and the constant improvement of our management techniques are efforts which must be fully shared by all my Representatives in the field. I have therefore requested them to come to Geneva next April, for a global strategy planning exercise, to be preceded by an intensive three days' training session. This process, I am confident, should contribute to consolidating and sharing our management efficiency efforts. Needless to say, I continue to attach great importance to initiatives we have already launched in the field of personnel management, which will be carefully followed by the newly appointed Director of Human Resources Management, Ms. Mary Murphy.

Mr. Chairman, I am deeply grateful for the continued financial support of donors in these times of budgetary constraint. In 1995, for the fourth consecutive year, my Office has achieved over one billion dollars in pledges. I am pleased to note that contributions to the 1995 General Programmes again increased over 1994 levels. I was also gratified to see that, with one exception, Special Programmes in 1995 were, by and large, adequately funded. The New Year is now upon us and the funding of our operations in 1996 is again a very real challenge. UNHCR's 1996 overall budget is 1.3 billion dollars. May I again stress the importance of financing the Office's General Programmes and striking a balance with the demands of the very large Special Programmes. I am obliged already to draw your attention to the very serious funding situation of our operations in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Financial resources carried over from 1995 are minimal, and I have had to resort to our Emergency Fund. I know that I can count on the support of our donors.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to a more detailed review of the crucial protection, programme and management issues which form part of the work programme of the Standing Committee in 1996. You may rest assured that my staff are fully committed to an ongoing process of transparent dialogue in pursuit of our common goal of responding to the humanitarian needs of those of concern to my Office.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.