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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Meeting of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, Paris, 14 November 1996

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Meeting of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, Paris, 14 November 1996

14 November 1996
I. The First Year of PeaceII. The Two-Year Peace Consolidation PlanIII. Conclusion

I. The First Year of Peace

Today's Bosnia and Herzegovina is not that of a year ago. And yet, in spite of all the progress, most of the two million people uprooted during the war are still in exile. So far, only 250,000 have returned, mainly to majority areas. The rest have yet to see the fruits of peace. Why? First, because some of those in power have continued to pursue ethnic separation rather than integration. Second, because the destruction and occupation of houses continue to be major impediments to return. The reconstruction effort has so far only met a fraction of the huge needs.

II. The Two-Year Peace Consolidation Plan

My Office therefore fully supports the proposed two-year peace consolidation plan. The continued political and economic engagement of the international community is indispensable to move from military to civilian peace. Finding solutions for those who were forced from their homes will be key to the success of the overall plan, and to lasting peace. Two more years are essential for this daunting task, which requires not only the building of homes but the building of bridges between the people of Bosnia.

A. UNHCR's Strategy

This past year has been one of transition from war to peace. My Office has used this period to assist many of those who have chosen to go back already, mainly spontaneously, as well as to lay the foundations for larger-scale returns.

1. The Summer of Return and Repatriation

As we enter this second year of peace, one of our principal objectives will be to make the summer of 1997 the first summer of large scale organized return and repatriation. To achieve this, UNHCR will build on two important ongoing initiatives.

First, we will continue to pursue the target area approach and expand it. Since its launch by my Office in June, much rehabilitation work has been done in the 22 identified priority areas for return, where destruction is the major obstacle. Shelter, water supply, health and school repair projects have been undertaken by UNHCR, the International Management Group, the World Bank, the European Commission and others. Thousands of displaced persons have already gone back to their homes there. In the coming months, we must work together to meet the remaining key infrastructure needs so as to further enhance the absorption capacity in these areas. I count on your continued support for this.

At the same time, we will work with asylum countries to identify refugees abroad who wish to go back to the existing target areas or to other places where feasible. In such places rehabilitation activities must then be given priority, if not already under way. For example, UNHCR, the German Government and the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the support of the European Commission, are now involved in a house repair project to assist 3,000 refugees from Germany to return to the Una Sana Canton. We must activate similar projects in other parts of the country.

Second, in spite of the many obstacles UNHCR will continue with its confidence-building measures, namely the local working groups, the Inter-Entity buses and the visits by displaced persons. These measures though not ends in themselves, are steps towards return. In this context, I very much welcome the procedure for returns to the Zone of Separation adopted last month by the Office of the High Representative, UNHCR, IFOR, IPTF, the European Commission and the Parties. The commissions set up by UNHCR to process applications have already cleared 700 families to go back. If the will exists among all those concerned, the procedure should allow us to move ahead, cautiously, with the first organized minority returns. However, the increased burning or bombing of houses of potential Bosniac returnees shows how enormous and unacceptable the opposition remains in some quarters. Unauthorized return movements to the Zone of Separation are another serious cause of tension, as witnessed two days ago in Gajevi, which led to the suspension of the agreed procedure. They must therefore be avoided.

2. Need for Regional Approach in Search for Durable Solutions

In order to move forward, we must also promote solutions in a regional context. Annex 7 does not address the issue of the uprooted in neighbouring States such as Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The causes of displacement in the region are inter-linked and so are the solutions. We must broaden the scope of Annex 7 to take this into account.

As a first step, in July and August my Office brought together the Ministers and Commissioners for Refugees from the region. They agreed that a regional plan of action for solutions should be developed. The participation of all asylum countries in the region and further afield as well as that of development organizations in this process will be critical. The timeframe for implementing the plan must coincide with the two-year peace consolidation period. At the meeting in London on 4 and 5 December, I hope to present a broad outline and solicit your support. We should aim to have the full-scale plan ready by next spring. I should also emphasize that, while we vigorously pursue inter-Entity returns, for many of those uprooted this will not be the preferred option - or indeed the safest. Considerable efforts therefore need to be made to create alternative solutions, such as voluntary relocation in Bosnia, as foreseen in Annex 7, or local integration in the region. For some refugees resettlement to third countries could also offer solutions.

B. Annex 7 Cannot be Implemented in a Vacuum

The success of Annex 7 will continue to depend on the actions of all concerned.

First, on those of the Parties. The forming of the joint institutions must lead to a climate of cooperation - and a greater commitment to Annex 7. The burning of houses in areas such as Prijedor, or evictions in places such as West-Mostar should not be allowed to continue. The municipal elections will also be an important factor and will affect the decision of the uprooted on whether to go back to their home areas.

Second, Annex 7 will depend on the success of the other Annexes. Close coordination among all of us will be vital. While we have different mandates, we have the common objective of implementing peace. The role of the High Representative in this respect will remain critical. IFOR has had a major impact. The international community must retain a military presence in the country for the next two years, to provide the necessary security umbrella for the realization of the overall peace consolidation plan - including the return of refugees. Those international actors involved in the human rights field must also ensure a better coordinated, more effective operation, geared not only towards monitoring but also intervention. The work of the Commission for Real Property Claims, which has started to accept claims as of this week, will be key. To enable it to function properly, the Commission must receive a generous response to its appeal for funds.

And third, Annex 7 depends also on the decisions and actions of the asylum countries. My Office is deeply grateful for the generosity they have shown over the past four years in hosting the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled the conflict. In countries carrying the highest burden, I appreciate the impatience to see this burden come to an end. I, too, want to see refugees go home soon. But at the same time, I must insist that the return process be implemented in full coordination with UNHCR and in a phased, orderly and, above all, humane way. At this stage repatriation should still be voluntary, while later on the need for continued protection will probably be limited to some vulnerable groups. Closer collaboration between the asylum countries and my Office, especially on information regarding potential returnees, should help us to encourage and plan return movements. Tangible progress is possible.

III. Conclusion

This past year brought an absence of war. But it did not end the suffering of the vast majority of the two million refugees and displaced persons who were the targets of the war. My Office is fully committed to the task assigned to us both by our international mandate and Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Agreement, but we must have the full support of the international community, of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of its two Entities.