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Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Tripartite Commission Rwanda/Zaire/UNHCR, Geneva, 25 September 1995

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Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Tripartite Commission Rwanda/Zaire/UNHCR, Geneva, 25 September 1995

25 September 1995

Excellencies, Distinguished Members of the Delegations of Rwanda and Zaire

Let me start by welcoming you to Geneva. I am very grateful that your respective Governments have accepted my invitation for this meeting of the Tripartite Commission in the context of the Tripartite Agreement on Repatriation of Rwandan Refugees from Zaire.

That Agreement was signed in Kinshasa eleven months ago. Since then, there have been several contacts between your two countries, most notably in Nairobi, Gbadolithe and Bujumbura, and I would hope that these contacts will be pursued in order to promote a climate of confidence in the region, and to give the necessary political impetus to efforts to solve the problem of refugees. Like in other situations of massive displacement, regular interstate dialogue is a pre-requisite to reach satisfactory and timely solutions for all concerned. Tripartite Commissions on Repatriation can be of tremendous help in this process; in many parts of the world they have proven their value. They reflect - and this is vital - the political will of countries of origin and of asylum to work jointly towards repatriation in conditions of safety and dignity; thus they should send an important signal to the hundreds of thousands of uprooted men, women and children who live in daily anxiety about their immediate and long term future. But, even more importantly, Tripartite Commissions serve first of all as a pragmatic framework to translate promises and intentions into concrete humanitarian action, in a coordinated and orderly fashion, and in full respect of international standards concerning the rights and obligations of refugee populations. Indeed, such Commissions, while expressing political commitment, represent foremost a humanitarian instrument. They are not a political forum. I would therefore like to urge you to concentrate on the humanitarian and organisational aspects of repatriation, and to be guided by a sense of pragmatism.

This is the way forward, as proven by the work of the Tripartite Commission between Rwanda, Burundi and my Office. The second Tripartite Commission, between Rwanda, Tanzania and UNHCR, has also made a good start. The initiatives agreed upon in the context of the Commission concerning refugees in Burundi, such as confidence building visits of refugees to Rwanda, have already led to an increase in repatriation movements. Progress in terms of repatriation from Tanzania and Zaire is at least as vital. As I said during the Bujumbura Conference in February, the prolonged stay of a large proportion of Rwanda's population abroad is neither a viable option for the men, women and children concerned, nor for the countries of asylum or for Rwanda itself. It is bad in humanitarian terms, and potentially dangerous in terms of regional security. I have moreover, serious doubts as to the preparedness of the donor community to sustain their humanitarian aid to large camp populations; clearly, donors would prefer to invest in the reintegration of refugees, in the reconstruction of Rwanda, and in the restoration of environmental and other damage in countries of asylum, initiatives which I will wholeheartedly support.

I was therefore, extremely encouraged to find during my mission to the region earlier this month, that all Governments concerned share the view that practical progress should now be achieved forthwith. Following my consultations with the UN Secretary-General, the latter has meanwhile informed the Security Council of the clear convergence of interest in repatriation which should be orderly, accelerated and voluntary. Let us, in the context of this Commission, build on this momentum, and confirm not only this convergence of interest, but also the willingness to take concrete action.

I must admit that I had hoped for earlier progress, especially after the Bujumbura Conference. That, unfortunately, did not materialise, for reasons beyond the control of my Office, and valuable time has been lost. At the same time, I sensed during my recent mission, that the climate for large-scale repatriation has meanwhile improved. Zaire has made unmistakably clear its commitment to repatriation. President Mobutu and members of the Zairean Government promised me to make efforts to control the influence of those leaders among the refugee population who are blocking repatriation, and announced that appropriate measures would be taken against intimidators in the camps. This is crucial. Meanwhile, the Zairean security contingent has gained valuable experience since it was established, and has had a positive impact on the security situation in the camps of North and South Kivu. I am very grateful for its contribution. In Rwanda, the President issued a strong statement during my stay in Kigali, reaffirming his country's commitment to receive back and to guard the safety of all Rwandan nationals "without preconditions". The Rwandan Government is actively engaged in re-integrating returnees from Burundi and Uganda. During the past few months, it has further expanded its civilian administration in the country. Every now and then, incidents of violence still occur, which are a cause for serious concern. The prevention of incursions from abroad, disciplinary action against the excessive use of force, continuous sensitisation of the local population, and international access are necessary counter measures, to which the leadership in Kigali has declared its full commitment. As observed by the United Nations, including my Office, the overwhelming majority of returnees from surrounding countries, have been able to regain their villages of origin peacefully. Another important development, which should reassure the camp populations abroad, is the intention in Kigali to define and take into account different levels of responsibility in last year's genocide and to examine specific measures in response to lower levels of responsibility. In short, these commitments underscore a new drive, both in Zaire and in Rwanda, to make repatriation work.

In elaborating the modalities for repatriation, the Tripartite Agreement of October 1994 and the Bujumbura Plan of Action should continue to provide the appropriate legal and policy framework. Let us proceed expeditiously, realistically and humanely at the same time. My Office is determined to re-double its efforts, in full cooperation with other international organisations, to make repatriation successful, provided basic humanitarian standards are respected, on both sides of the border. I am convinced that only then the return of two million human beings will help to promote national reconciliation in Rwanda, and durable stability in the region.

I am sure that I can count on your full cooperation to make our meeting a success. Thank you.