Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Summary of the Oral Statement of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, 16 November 1970

Speeches and statements

Summary of the Oral Statement of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, 16 November 1970

16 November 1970

1. On this occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations and 20 years after the adoption of resolution 428 (V) bringing UNHCR into existence, the best announcement I could have made would be the closing of my Office. But our society is not what we had dreamed of 25 years ago and contemporary conditions are often more conducive o the generating of refugees than to the arduous structuring of peace and development.

2. Since UNHCR is strictly a humanitarian and non-political organization, it is not for us to comment on the cause - which is debated in many other forums of this Organization - but only to find rapid and durable solutions to the effect. For this, new initiatives and new techniques are constantly required. These we have repeatedly sought. We are aware that monotony in performance and approach can else consume both the purpose and the effort. We are greatly encouraged by the increasing realization of governments that stagnation in refugee situations is most detrimental to peace and international understanding. This is why we hope and believe that my Office will continue to receive, as in the past two years, the unanimous support of this Committee in its efforts to resolve the problems of the uprooted who are within our terms of reference. This is clearly in the general interest.

3. For this reason, too, we have been working not only in close cooperation with my Executive Committee and the Economic and Social Council, but also with an increasing sensitivity to the debates in other forums of the United Nations such as the Fourth Committee and the Committee of Twenty Four. It is a source of great satisfaction to UNHCR that these bodies recognize and appreciate our efforts to assist refugees from the territories wit which the are concerned. We have sought to accomplish ourselves, and to stimulate others to do, whatever was possible within out competence. In accordance with our Statute we relieve, in a non-political way, the distress of human beings. Our approach must be pragmatic. Within this approach, we feel that we have contributed tangibly to fulfilling the intent of resolution 1514 (XV) the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Our help, particularly in the day when the refugees can return home and contribute constructively to the development of their countries. We believe that for them, as for all other refugees, the ideal solution remains voluntary repatriation which I continue to promote whenever and wherever possible.

4. For those who cannot yet return, we must ensure that they be given both a status and the rights that go with it. We are gratified, therefore, that we can now count 60 accessions to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and 42 to the 1967 Protocol. These have come from different continents and countries having differing structures and preoccupations. From Africa, the latest accessions to the Protocol are Niger (4 February), Ivory Coast (16 February), Dahomey (6 July), The People's Republic of the Congo (10 July). From Latin America: Paraguay (1 April ), Uruguay (12 September). We have also spared no effort to ensure that regional organizations and conferences keep in mind the particular problems of refugees. Hence, we attach importance to the American Convention on Human Rights, "the Pact of San José", signed at the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights in November 1969. Our approach to the Council of Europe resulted in resolution 70 (2) of its Committee of Ministers on 26 January 1970. It underlined my feeling that refugees who are fully integrated in all but the narrowest legal sense should increasingly have the opportunity of taking the next step - naturalization. The Organization of African Unity is now directing its efforts to the implementing of the African Refugee Convention. Despite these encouraging developments, we must deplore the fact that some cases of forced return or refoulement have taken place, which show the futility of legal instruments if their principles are not applied. I appeal to governments once again to take into account the basic human rights of refugees.

5. The growing confidence of governments in the work and results of UNHCR is also reflected in stronger financial support. Despite additional requests because of new needs in Africa, the position remains encouraging: the number of governments contributing to the programme has gone up to 80 as against 75 in 1969 and 50 in 1966. This means that total governmental support has grown by more than 15% since last year - or from 4 million dollars to 4.7. It should be noted, also, that in 1970, 22 governments announced higher regular contributions than in 1969. Whilst governmental contributions have thus risen to about 80% of the programme needs, I would like this to be 100%, as we should not continually have to depend on the vagaries of private fund-raising where vital human needs are involved.

6. This support has enabled UNHCR to further consolidate rural settlements and, thanks to the governments' encouragement, the principle of inter-agency cooperation. The dullest use of the U.N. system is essential and my Office is therefore deeply interested in the results of the deliberations of UNDP's Governing Council following Sir Robert Jackson's Capacity Study. Many experts from the specialized agencies are contributing to our efforts so as to allow refugees to become self - supporting some. Some recent examples include FAO soil surveys in Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, and ILO study to create small industries for Mozambican refugees in Zambia and a WHO mission to probe nutritional problems in the Sudan. UNESCO, UNICEF and W. F. P. continue to give us their invaluable support. It should be stressed that whilst UNHCR's programme amounted to less than 6 million dollars in 1969, supporting contributions totalled 7.2 million dollars as against 5.4 million in 1968, not including the value of land and services which host-countries have so generously provided. Equally, these estimates do not account for the value of food provided by W. F. P. or of bilateral aid directly or indirectly benefiting refugees. We are grateful to all U.N. agencies that have responded and to those non-governmental agencies that contribute actively in developing countries. UNHCR has been increasingly successful in attracting supporting contributions and its traditional role as a catalyst has been strengthened. Rural programmes could be further streamlined if coordination and efficiency in the field were as good as we wish them to be and if host - governments requested inter - agency support from the U.N. system as soon as possible after the initial needs of the refugees have been met. It has now become clear that the long-term consolidation of large refugee settlements cannot be effective if such areas are not taken into account in overall development planning. This is a task beyond UNHCR's limited means. The discussion which took place in my Executive Committee underlined the need for governments to speak with the same voice in various forums of the U.N. system, and more particularly in those dealing with development and financing. I respectfully appeal to the delegated for their support to such consistency in governmental positions. This is essential if UNHCR - and thereby the international community - is to avoid getting involved in an endless process of helping the same refugee groups year after year. UNHCR must retain its flexibility, respond where help is most needed and concentrate on such on its functions that cannot be delegated. This, indeed, would be in accord with the feelings expressed by more than one delegation in this committee last year.

7. The growing challenge which I foresee for the immediate future is the increasing number of needy individual refugees in the cities of Africa - as opposed to the rural areas, and also of non-European refugees in European and other capitals. This problem will be solved only if national legislation regarding refugees is in line with international principles. Further, the OAU Bureau for the Placement and Education of African Refugees must now produce tangible results as stressed in my statement to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa on 2 September this year. My warmest appreciation goes to the Nordic governments for their generous support towards the education and vocational training of refugees. Their substantial grants to the Education Account has brought its resources from 800,000 dollars in 1969 to 1.1 million dollars for this year. This will provide many individual refugees with the necessary skills which trey so badly require to cease being a burden to themselves as to others. UNHCR has also concluded a productive arrangement with the U.N. Educational and Training Programme for Southern Africa which avoids overlapping and duplication whilst ensuring maximum benefit from limited resources. This is reviewed in detail in the Secretary-General's report A/8151 of 6 November 1970.

8. UNHCR will continue to facilitate the smooth resettlement of those refugees who cannot or do not wish to remain in countries of first asylum. We believe that resettlement has helped tremendously in the European context. Immigration quotas must remain liberal as any breakdown would invariably create a build-up and eventually a backlog of stagnating problems much more difficult to resolve both politically and financially.

9. The Office's universal function has ensured its response to requests for assistance from many parts of the world. The increasing trust in UNHCR and its usefulness in particular situations is demonstrated by a greater number of governments availing themselves of its "good offices" to help them resolve their individual, regional and localized preoccupations: Latin and Central American governments have sought our views on certain problems in this area. In Asia, the Governments of Cambodia and of the Republic of Vietnam have turned to UNHCR in their attempts to solve the plight of some recently uprooted groups, some of whom come within the terms of reference of this Office. Finally, I am particularly pleased to report that the Governments of Gabon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria jointly invited the "good offices " and technical assistance of UNHCR in facilitating the return of five thousand Nigerian children who were cared for in Gabon and Ivory Coast during part of the civil war and who must now be re-united with their families. After having personally visited the three capitals early in October and having made available staff to help in this operation, we can all take great satisfaction at the good news that the first planes have already brought back over 400 children and that this airlift should continue at its present rate until the operation is completed.

10. This reunification is a happy conclusion for a happy few. It should not make us forget the many refugees who are still in distress. We may appear to be dealing wit their dilemma, every year, in a repetitive manner but words should not lose their meaning or make us cynical. The positive results which I have been able to report are your successes: they must be multiplied in the future.