Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the UNHCR-International Peace Academy (IPA) Seminar on "Healing the Wounds: Refugees, Reconstruction, Reconciliation," Princeton, 30 June 1996

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the UNHCR-International Peace Academy (IPA) Seminar on "Healing the Wounds: Refugees, Reconstruction, Reconciliation," Princeton, 30 June 1996

30 June 1996

Let me start by extending a warm welcome to all of you. I am grateful to see so many distinguished participants. To heal the wounds in post-conflict societies, we need not only the peace-mindedness and courage of their citizens and leaders, but also the help and insight of people like you. Let me also thank the Princeton University for hosting this seminar and the International Peace Academy and its President, Ambassador Otunnu, for co-chairing it.

Why did we choose today's theme? In 1993, during the first UNHCR-IPA seminar, we discussed "conflict and humanitarian action", including military support for such action. We were at the height of the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Somalia, and the cataclysm in Rwanda had yet to take place. Now, three years later, some conflicts, such as Afghanistan, linger on; in others, such as Liberia, the violence flares up from time to time; and right now the situation in Burundi is appalling. But overall the picture looks less gloomy, as we have also witnessed significant positive developments: in South-Africa, the Middle East, Haiti and central America, Angola, Mozambique and of course in Bosnia.

Perhaps more than any other event, Dayton has brought a new sense of hope and engagement. It has catalyzed international attention on the multiple challenges of re-building war torn societies. These challenges also apply to Rwanda. Bosnia and Rwanda demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between refugee repatriation on the one hand and demilitarization, reconstruction and reconciliation on the other. This is why we chose these two case studies as a starting point for this seminar. Let me therefore briefly analyze them, and then proceed with some general observations.

In Bosnia seven months have passed since Dayton, and of some two million refugees and internally displaced persons only 70 to 80,000 have returned to their homes. In Rwanda the victory of the RPF and the installation of the Government of National Unity are now two years old: whereas 7 to 800,000 Tutsi refugees of earlier periods and 4 to 500,000 more recent, Hutu refugees returned to the country, the repatriation of the remaining 1.7 million Hutu refugees is stagnating. Why is this? Post-peace repatriation is never an easy process, but why is it here so particularly difficult?

Bosnia and Rwanda are both cases of political and group conflict. In Rwanda the ethnic factor is closely linked to the sharing of power and scarce resources, notably land, whereas in Bosnia ethnic or other group factors have, in my view, to a large extent been manufactured by the forces of nationalism. Given the character of group conflict, whether manipulated or not, the real challenge of peace is primarily to restore or ensure the peaceful co-existence of the groups in question, rather than of individuals. That huge challenge is compounded by the contextual difficulties in which it has to be tackled: the societies in question are physically devastated, emotionally traumatized and, in many respects, culturally divided. Following the most atrocious crimes, deep inter-group mistrust at best and hatred at worst must be overcome, while they continue to be exploited by political opportunism and lies. And on top of this, there are various types of international stake holders with different political agendas.

In both cases peace building amounts, albeit in varying degrees, to nation, or better, community building. But in Bosnia that is not all: there the restoration of inter-group co-existence is closely linked to the challenge of state building. Contrary to the case of Rwanda, the very existence of the State of Bosnia has been disputed from its inception. In that sense, peace building in Bosnia is a far more daunting undertaking.

Here, however, at least the guns have fallen silent and there is a peace agreement with a carefully crafted compromise for the political future of the country. It contains detailed provisions to ensure the right of return of refugees and displaced persons: they may opt for return or for relocation to majority areas. Moreover, Bosnia benefits from a high degree of positive international involvement. Whereas it could not prevent or stop the violence, the international community played a crucial role in making peace and is now helping to consolidate it. There is a military, political and civilian implementation structure. There is support and oversight, and there are resources. Continued media interest helps to keep Bosnia on the international agenda. The International Tribunal has begun trying at least some war criminals.

On all accounts, Rwanda has to do with far less. With external assistance the new Government has progressed considerably in the rehabilitation of the country. However, repeated rebel incursions endanger the country's stability and increasingly that of the region. Although the Government tries to accommodate both ethnic groups, there is no dialogue, let alone an agreement, with those in exile. The background of a horrendous genocide makes the situation perhaps uniquely complicated. Normally the main victims of atrocities are living in asylum, as refugees; here they are inside, in power, and the guilty are outside planning to remove them. There is still no justice for the survivors of genocide, whereas bona fide refugees are prevented from returning by intimidation and by fear of arbitrary arrest or retribution. The region is divided, international media are only marginally interested, and the international community lacks political determination and a clear, common strategy.

In Bosnia there was no clear winner; in Rwanda there was. In Bosnia the absence of a winner led to political compromise. In Rwanda, where the only attempt to tackle the causes - the Arusha agreement of 1993 - was followed by a blood bath, there is for now no compromise. In Bosnia some people are apparently dissatisfied with the agreed solution, and try to pursue in peace their goal in war, i.e. ethnic division. In Rwanda, the losing side, which perpetrated the genocide, does not accept defeat, whereas the winning side is, understandably, not prepared to talk to them.

In both cases the refugees are caught in the middle. Their repatriation, which should be humanitarian, is highly political: in peace time, they continue to be hostage to political objectives. In the case of Dayton, the option to return to their homes is meant to reverse ethnic cleansing, at least in part, and to promote the political and social re-integration of the country. In the case of Rwanda, preventing repatriation of the Hutu refugees is an objective of the former leadership, while the Tutsi refugees from earlier periods have been able to return to the country in large numbers. The main question is: how does one achieve the peaceful re-integration of refugees and displaced persons in countries with a politically and demographically changed landscape, when the compromise solution for group co-existence is either misinterpreted and obstructed or not yet found? Under which circumstances is the re-mixing of populations possible, following ethno-political conflict?

Let me now make a few remarks of a more general nature which will hopefully help in our discussion. I have chosen seven points. I will use the phrase peace building in its broadest sense, encompassing the aspect of healing and reconciliation.

First, effective peace building requires situational analysis and strategies. It should be clear from our two case studies that the popular term 'post-conflict reconstruction' may not be very useful and may even be misleading. A clear disjuncture in time separating conflict from peace is rare. We also learn that the work of peace making may have to continue in 'peace time': there may be twilight zones between war and peace. We must disaggregate different situations by recognizing better their complex varieties. These are key for peace building strategies, including for refugee repatriation and the type and duration of international involvement.

Second, peace building requires just solutions for refugees and displaced persons. In UNHCR's experience, such solutions are indispensable for lasting peace and true stability. Ending suffering should be regarded as both a humanitarian and a political imperative: it is a function of peace building. Establishing peace while hoping that refugees will find their own solutions, rarely works. The Rwandan Tutsis spent over thirty years in exile, but in 1991 they came back, armed. Palestinian mothers still carry the keys of their houses in Israel. The larger the exodus, the more evident the argument. And if forced displacement was the objective rather than a by-product of conflict, such as in the Balkans and the Caucasus, the refugee factor will be extra strong. I am grateful that especially since the peace accords for Afghanistan and Cambodia, solutions for refugees and displaced persons have increasingly been integrated in peace agreements, and that UNHCR has been associated with this process.

Third, peace building and repatriation in many situations cannot be achieved by human rights guarantees and rehabilitation alone. When societies have been fundamentally shaken by conflict and group co-existence is at stake, peace building requires an agreed concept of society. Perhaps even when one party totally defeats the other, there must be a minimum common understanding of the causes of conflict and a genuine compromise on the main features of the future society. Compromises must be clear and supported by a willingness to settle. The international community can help to overcome difficulties in implementation, but it cannot substitute for the essence of a common concept of society. That concept must be owned by the people, not by the international community.

My Office has made every effort to achieve and accelerate repatriation to Rwanda. It has even been accused of compromising the voluntary nature of repatriation, a well-established principle which has not only humanitarian but also practical and security value. The relocation of refugee camps away from the Rwandan border should ease the increasing tension, whereas the separation and prosecution of those responsible for organizing mass murder should finally make it possible to exclude them from international refugee protection and assistance. But even then it is highly unlikely that humanitarian action and rehabilitation could reach durable solutions and lasting peace, without agreement among the Rwandan people on the organization of their society.

Fourth, peace building requires patience and time. When conflicts have been ferocious and the causes are structural, there are no quick fixes. As Jeffrey Herbst wrote in the April issue of Foreign Affairs, there is certainly no such thing as a humanitarian surgical strike. Inter-group peace building is confidence building. If it took many years to reconcile nations in post-world war Europe, then it may take much longer to reconcile neighbourhoods in the same country. Long term confidence building requires establishing a climate of tolerance, through healing, peace education and respect for the truth. In the short run, there can be dead - lines for the military and the holding of elections, but not for refugee repatriation. Being pro-active in refugee return, to which UNHCR is committed, has both its humanitarian and security limits. As part of the process of peace building in fragile circumstances, it should reinforce not compromise this process. One incident may mean two steps back. Time tables for the civilian aspects of peace building, and notably refugee return, must be realistic, lest we elicit unnecessary tension and frustration.

Fifth, peace building requires the discovery of the truth and accountability. All wars are brutal, but not all of them involve the mass killing of civilians. Especially in these cases the victims must be satisfied with the society's response to their plight and the perpetrators, for both moral and practical reasons. Where total impunity reigns, as e.g. in parts of central America and in Burundi, reconciliation will have little chance. I would think that in each situation the right mixture and formula of accountability and forgiveness has to be found. South Africa, a country led by a President with the example-setting courage to repudiate retribution, has opted for the public telling of the truth. In Mozambique the war was marked by gross atrocities, yet FRELIMO and RENAMO could agree on a general amnesty; it was a civil but not an ethnic conflict.

In some situations there may have to be more haunting and daring compromises between the competing demands of peace and justice than in others. Whereas insufficient compromises may block or threaten peace in the short run, too many may undermine lasting peace. Whichever form it takes, justice must be manageable and should come much faster than in the case of both Bosnia and Rwanda. And finally: lest justice is to delay refugee repatriation, it must be impartial and respect the human rights of those accused. One of the major challenges of reconciliation is, indeed, that the victims must respect the rule of law their violators did not.

Sixth, peace building must bring early and visible dividends of peace. One cannot force peace between different groups, and one cannot buy it either. But without physical reconstruction and economic revitalization, war torn societies will remain handicapped, reconciliation will suffer, and refugees may be unable to repatriate. Lack of opportunities for demobilized soldiers may generate new tension. While there should obviously be differentiation in the overall strategy for developed Bosnia and for developing Angola, a common problem for refugee return is often the destruction or occupation of their property. UNHCR has helped thousands of refugees and displaced to re-build their homes in Tajikistan, and we are doing the same in Bosnia and Rwanda. We are simply filling a gap. In Rwanda and especially in Bosnia the real needs go clearly beyond the capacity of humanitarian actors.

Reconstruction assistance must therefore arrive much faster. It is important politically, to keep the momentum of peace, and it is important to prevent tension over house occupation. Institutional rules and regulations, different priorities and planning, and different funding sources and mechanisms are only partially responsible. Political conditionality, either official or informal, is often another reason for delays on the part of individual donors. I would hope that more consensus can be reached on joint approaches towards reconstruction assistance, with predictable criteria. Reconstruction that is too conditioned on progress in the peace building process may itself undermine that.

Seventh and last, peace building requires sustained and coordinated international commitment. That was a major factor in the success of Mozambique. Local populations and their leaders, although primarily responsible for their own future, need international help. The multilateral and bilateral components and their civilian and sometimes military aspects need to be tailored to each situation. The necessary linkages need to be established, and coordination must take place as much as possible where the action is, in the field. I am very grateful for the excellent cooperation among the many partners in Bosnia. Especially when so many political aspects are involved, coordination and a common vision are as vital in peace building as in peace making.

I have come to the end of my statement. Sometimes we are all bewildered by scepticism and helplessness. How on earth can one heal the wounds of large scale murder and expulsion? I want to be optimistic. Throughout history people have shown how resilient they are. Cambodia, South Africa, Mozambique and many countries in Latin America are some of the examples that show that societies - some faster, some slower - can get back to their feet again. They demonstrate that enmities can heal, that our longing for peace is in the end much stronger than any possible inclination for evil. If we are unable or unwilling to stop the most terrible conflicts, we should at least help to give peace a chance, to prevent their re-occurrence. This, I hope, will be one of the main international commitments in the coming years. I hope that this seminar will help us to find the way.

Thank you.