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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Vienna, 15 October 1998

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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Vienna, 15 October 1998

15 October 1998
KosovoBuilding on current structuresCOnclusion: moving ahead

Secretary General Aragona,
Chairman Kobieracki,
Members of the Permanent Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Permanent Council today - at this crucial moment for our organisations. I would like to thank the chairman, Ambassador Adam Kobieracki, for inviting me to be here. This invitation is one more indication of the ever strengthening partnership between UNHCR and the OSCE - a far-reaching partnership that extends from Western Europe to Central Asia.

Encompassing an area rife with uncertainty, our partnership is now more crucial than ever. Crises such as those in Kosovo, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia continue to provide humanitarian and political challenges. The Forty-ninth Session of the Executive Committee of UNHCR's programme last week focused on how international cooperation can cultivate global solidarity and the sharing of responsibilities to help refugees and other displaced people. In this context, UNHCR welcomes working closely with the OSCE.

In the face of current challenges, please allow me to first of all share some thoughts on how to most effectively enact our partnership. What role would be most effective for the OSCE to assume in cooperation with UNHCR, and what would you expect from my office?

I propose to you that what UNHCR would most welcome is a partner to complement our humanitarian activities; a partner who could focus on political, human rights and security issues related to refugees and other displaced people. Already, the OSCE has proven to be a valuable collaborator, examples of which I will outline later. However, this partnership can extend even further. It can more effectively address emerging, as well as ongoing problems, particularly in the areas of conflict resolution, verification of peace settlements and post-conflict reconciliation.

Since I last met with you in January 1996, and particularly over the last year, displacement has become more complex. The lack of political progress in resolving conflicts has slowed down and even blocked solutions. Worse yet, even after political settlements have been reached and displaced people can return voluntarily, they often return to a situation that can be characterized as a "fragile peace." Humanitarian activities continue to be used as a stop-gap measure pending full political solutions.


Kosovo is a prime example. The agreement reached this week in Belgrade is an important first step to addressing the plight of some 300,000 refugees and other displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes. However, a great challenge remains ahead.

Up until this last weekend, people have continued to flee their homes in terror. The causes of civilian displacement were brutally clear during my assessment mission in Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania just three weeks ago. While serious human rights violations by the Kosovo Liberation Army have been reported, the main cause for displacement has been the excessive use of force by government security units.

UNHCR continues its operations in Kosovo, having significantly increased its operational capacity and presence on the ground to enable us to effectively lead the humanitarian response to the crisis. Yesterday, for example, my office coordinated and delivered assistance to two villages south-west of Pristina. In one of these villages, Sedlare, some 2000 people, who had fled their homes in Komorane, have been camping in the open for over two months. As I am speaking UNHCR is leading convoys to deliver food and other items to some 16,000 beneficiaries in the villages of Novo Selo and Glogovac. Now that we can welcome new partners to the Kosovo scene, UNHCR's role as the lead agency in the humanitarian response must be further strengthened.

In this context, I would appeal for the support of governments in urging that the August 1998 UN revised funding appeal for the crisis in Kosovo be fully financed. We appreciate the generous response received so far to the appeal, which extends until the end of this year. However, full funding and donor flexibility towards expenditures would maximize UNHCR's ability to respond to the immediate needs of refugees and others as we face the challenges ahead.

However, humanitarian efforts can only treat the symptoms of the crisis in Kosovo, but cannot solve it when its causes are clearly political. Kosovo is a political problem, with humanitarian consequences. A just and enduring political solution remains the only way to prevent further humanitarian disaster.

Now - on the heels of the recent agreement in Belgrade - is the time to realise a political settlement of the crisis. A great opportunity lies ahead for UNHCR and the OSCE to forge a strong partnership in our activities in Kosovo - in order to assist paving the way for a political settlement and lasting peace.

The OSCE can play a pivotal role in helping foster conditions for refugees and displaced people to return home. It is my understanding that you will provide a mission of some 2000 monitors to verify compliance by all parties with UN Security Council Resolution 1199.

First, I would urge that the speed of deploying this verification mission is crucial. Certainly my office is ready to fully support this process and will be engaged in formalising an early agreement on our cooperation in Kosovo.

Second, given the critical link between displacement, return and security, the OSCE will be a crucial player in ensuring a safe environment for refugees and displaced persons to return. Tactics of terror and subjugation in Kosovo have left people petrified. Displaced people desperately expressed to me during my recent mission their fear of harassment and eviction by governmental security units upon return. They told me that these same security units have burned and looted empty dwellings, destroyed abandoned vehicles and killed farm animals. Also, many draft-age men who returned have reportedly often been randomly interrogated and detained by local police. OSCE monitors would be ideally positioned to judge whether President Milosevic's government has made the fundamental change necessary to allow safe returns.

Third, as information is collected, it will also be vital for the OSCE to work closely with UNHCR and other international organizations to establish clear and effective reporting channels. The UN Secretary General will dispatch a UN mission to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the coming days to assess the situation. Close coordination between the respective missions and all international players in Kosovo will ensure that ongoing developments can be analysed quickly, reliably and comprehensively.

Fourth, the OSCE could be a decisive player in promoting local capacity building and the establishment of solid democratic institutions. For example, much work will be needed to supervise elections, and reform judicial and law-enforcement structures. Programs established in Bosnia and Herzegovina could serve as models.

Finally, OSCE monitors in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have provided assistance noting movements and conditions at the border crossings. In a post conflict stage, these activities could continue to be very useful.

Unquestionably the agreement reached in Belgrade this week is an important first step towards easing the plight of people displaced by the conflict in Kosovo. Full compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, including immediate measures to increase the physical safety and security of the population, have to follow. A withdrawal of security and police forces combined with a strengthened international presence constitute important confidence building measures - prerequisites for a safe return of displaced persons and refugees. In all these aspects both our organisations have vital roles to play.


As I mentioned already, a basis already exists and is underway in the Balkans in which the OSCE and UNHCR work together. Let me turn to situations in which such cooperation is already taking place.

Croatia and Bosnia

In Croatia and Bosnia UNHCR and the OSCE have cooperated on various levels towards the main objective of promoting and facilitating voluntary return, with UNHCR focusing on humanitarian activities and the OSCE on monitoring elections, human rights, and compliance with return agreements.

In Croatia, the OSCE has been able to use its political influence to pressure Croatia to remain on track regarding the return agreements it has signed. In addition, it has taken the lead along with UNHCR and the European Community Monitoring Mission to establish a common database to track progress in the return of refugees. UNHCR and the OSCE also co-chair the Return Facilitation Group, which oversees efforts to promote returns from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

By organising and monitoring elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the OSCE has also supported return. For example, UNHCR and the OSCE's National Election Results Implementation Committee have worked closely to facilitate the priority return of officials elected during the September 1997 elections. Moreover, the OSCE and UNHCR cooperated in promoting the participation of refugees in these elections.

Through the establishment of a returnee monitoring framework, the OSCE is involved in human rights monitoring. UNHCR is contributing to the OSCE's democratization activities by supporting confidence-building activities in return areas and return-planning processes.

Former Soviet Union and the CIS Process

Turning to states of the former Soviet Union and the CIS Conference process, the OSCE has assisted UNHCR in facilitating returns by playing a role in conflict resolution, local capacity building and solving issues of statelessness. I would encourage that these efforts continue and be strengthened.

A Program of Action was adopted by the CIS Conference in May 1996 to address refugee and displacement problems in the former Soviet Union. This has nurtured partnerships among relevant organizations, including the OSCE and its institutions.

The OSCE has been a crucial organizer and mediator in the armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. Through mediation efforts, the parties have agreed to end their armed confrontation. On 14 November 1997 they signed a joint statement proclaiming 1998 to be the "year of return" for refugees and other displaced people.

As a result, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has worked jointly with UNHCR regarding the restitution of property of returnees who had fled from the conflict zone.

Political support from the OSCE's High Commissioner on National Minorities has proved useful in efforts to reduce statelessness, thereby facilitating reintegration of returnees. Thanks to the joint efforts of UNHCR and Mr. van der Stoel's Office, the Governments of Uzbekistan and Ukraine recently signed an agreement that makes it easier for returning Crimean Tatars to obtain Ukrainian citizenship. These Crimean Tatars are returning to Crimea after some 50 years in exile. In this context, I was delighted to present the Nansen Medal - the highest recognition for work done in favour of refugees - just last week to Mr. Mustafa Djemilev, an elected leader of the Crimean Tatar People, in recognition of his dedicated efforts over the last 30 years to help displaced Crimean Tatar People return to their homeland.

However, there continue to be various regions in the former Soviet Union where ongoing conflict or other constraints are blocking the return of displaced people or triggering new movements.

In the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, there sadly remains no progress in the peace-making process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Nonetheless, UNHCR continues to cooperate closely with the OSCE and others through the "Minsk Group" process in working towards and preparing for peace. Despite the lack of progress here, at least the "Minsk Group" provides a forum for continued dialogue, and the hope that continued cooperation could eventually bring results. After the elections this week in Azerbaijan, it is expected that the parties can then return to the negotiating table.

I am particularly disturbed by the deteriorating situation in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. UNHCR is working closely with the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) to address yet another humanitarian crisis there. While the OSCE does not play a role in this region, any efforts to focus international attention on the humanitarian consequences of the conflict would be most welcomed.

Fighting that broke out in May 1998 forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes in the Gali District of Abkhazia. These people were among 50,000 who had returned to their homes from late 1996 until the spring of 1998. Now they have become displaced a second time. Over 1,400 houses belonging to returnees were deliberately burned. Many of the houses and schools had been provided by UNHCR.

Currently UNHCR and UNOMIG are conducting joint patrols inside the zone of conflict in Gali. However, the main challenge remains trying to secure access to the 12,000 remaining civilians there who were too frail to flee and to provide relief to them. We are also quite concerned for their safety.

Voluntary return in this context remains questionable. The situation has gone from a "fragile peace" back to an outbreak of hostilities. The lack of security in areas not controlled by the government continues to be the main constraint to return. Therefore, UNHCR's efforts have focused on constructive engagement between the Abkhaz and Georgian sides to gain access to returnees in the Gali Zone of Conflict.

Let me emphasize that staff security remains of grave concern to my office. UN and other humanitarian worker continue to be vulnerable in some of these regions. The situation of Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's Head of Office in Vladikavkaz, is of our foremost preoccupation. He was abducted 259 days ago and continues to be held captive. We remain hopeful that he will soon be freed.


Ladies and Gentlemen, with the recent agreement on Kosovo, new opportunities for a solution to the crisis in Kosovo have emerged. Now is the time for UNHCR and the OSCE to strengthen - and tailor - our partnership to resolve the complex plight of refugees and other displaced people - not only in Kosovo, but also in other areas such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

My office welcomes the recent political progress regarding Kosovo. However, as I said earlier, concrete measures have to follow on the ground - ensuring full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions - before people can safely return home. It will take the continued political engagement of organizations like the OSCE to have Kosovo progress towards a lasting peace, and to resolve crises in other regions. Much work remains to be done. And together we can address the challenges ahead.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.