Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems, First Session: Summary Record of the Second Meeting Held at Lake Success, New York, on Tuesday, 17 January 1930, at 11 a.m.
Chairman: Mr. Leslie CHANCE Canada
Members: Mr. GUERREIRO Brazil
Mr. CHA China
Mr. LARSEN Denmark
Mr. RAIN France
Mr. ROBINSON Israel
Mr. KURAL Turkey
Sir Leslie BRASS United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Mr. HENKIN United States of America
Mr. PEREZ PEROZO Venezuela
Representatives of specialized agencies:
Mr. WEIS International Refugee Organization
Consultants of non-governmental organizations:
Mr. STOLZ American Federation of Labor (AF of L)
Mr. John HUMPHREY Director, Human Rights Division
Mr. HOGAN Secretary of the Committee
ADOPTION OF THE AGENDA
1. The CHAIRMAN called for adoption of the agenda and drew particular attention to item 4 and the relevant document prepared by the Secretariat (E/AC.32/2). He congratulated the Secretariat upon the excellence of that paper and stressed the magnitude of the task confronting the Committee in its consideration of the international status of refugees and stateless persons.
2. Mr. ROBINSON (Israel) requested clarification of several points bearing mainly upon the programme and method of work of the Committee. He wondered whether it was expected to accomplish its task in a single session. While the Economic and Social Council's resolution 248 (IX) B made no stipulation to that effect, the Council's paper on the financial implications of the establishment of the Committee, and the very fact that it had been designated as an ad hoc body, might be interpreted to mean that it was to complete its work during the current session. On the other hand, the Committee was not yet in a position to give full consideration to items 4 and 5 of the agenda. For example, it was bound by the preamble of resolution 248 (IX) B to await the Secretary-General's final report on the nationality of married women, which he had been instructed to submit under resolution 242 (IX) C of the Economic and Social Council. Clearly, the status of married women could not be ignored in a discussion of the elimination of statelessness. It might therefore become necessary to defer consideration of that question.
3. In any case, although there had been varying prognostications concerning the length of the session, the Committee certainly could not be expected to fulfil its entire programme in less than six or seven weeks. Even a five-week session created some difficulty both for those members who had important posts in their own countries and for those who were members of small permanent delegations. The work could undoubtedly be expedited by holding two meetings each day. It was to be hoped, however, that such a rule would not be too rigidly enforced.
4. Finally, in order to provide a sound legal basis for procedural decisions which might be adopted by the Committee, Mr. Robinson suggested that it should record its intention to be guided in the conduct of its business by the rules of procedure of the Economic and Social Council in so far as they proved applicable.
5. The CHAIRMAN said that the Committee would be in a better position to gauge the scope of its work when it was in possession of all the relevant documents prepared by the Secretariat. In the meantime, it could attempt to draft a new convention on the status of refugees and stateless persons in five weeks or less. The difficulties encountered by members of permanent delegations would be taken into account in arranging the schedule of meetings. In connexion with the rules of procedure which would govern the conduct of business, rule 25 of the Council's rules of procedure enumerated the specific rules applicable to the Committee.
6. Mr. RAIN (France) endorsed the Chairman's remarks and shared the hope he had expressed that the Committee might complete its work before the expiration of the five-week period. In order to do so, however, it must be prepared to meet twice a day.
7. There were, in fact, two distinct questions before the Committee: the status of refugees and the problems related to the legal status of stateless persons. In pursuance of the General Assembly's decision, and in view of the important political and economic consequences arising from it, the French delegation considered it urgent to draft a convention on the first of those questions. It had prepared a draft which it would subsequently submit for discussion by the committee.
8. The question of the elimination of statelessness was basically different from that of the status of refugees. It was rather a continuing concern of the world community than an acute situation which required immediate remedial measures. It could only be resolved after a thorough study of national legislation on stateless persons by specially qualified experts and by the long process of reconciling those various bodies of law. The Committee could not presume to do more than lay down the broad lines of an international policy regarding stateless persons and refer to legal experts the matter of a convention on the subject. It seemed perfectly feasible for the Committee to draft a convention on refugees in general terms within a two-week period.
9. Mr. ROBINSON (Israel) agreed that the Committee could not hope to solve the problem of statelessness. It was bound, moreover, to await a final decision on the status of married women before proceeding to full consideration of the question.
As there was no objection, the agenda was adopted.
INTERNATIONAL STATUS OF REFUGEES AND STATELESS PERSONS:
ITEM 4 OF THE AGENDA (E/AC.32/2)
10. The CHAIRMAN asked the Committee to consider the desirability of preparing a revised and consolidated convention relating to the international status or refugees and stateless persons.
11. Mr. ROBINSON (Israel) noted a discrepancy between the English and French texts of the Committee's terms of reference as they appeared on page 4 of document E/AC.32/2. In sub-paragraph (a), the French read "personnes déplacées", while the English equivalent was "stateless persons". The French text was obviously incorrect inasmuch as the original resolution had been drafted in English by the United Kingdom delegation and should be presumed to be the authentic text. During its ninth session, the Economic and Social Council had debated at length the definition of the terms "refugee", "stateless person" and "displaced person" without reaching any conclusion. It would therefore be necessary to review the entire question in connexion with the scope of the draft convention as defined in articles 1 and 2. In the view of the Israel delegation, however, the Committee need only deal with two categories: refugees and stateless persons. The displaced persons problem had virtually ceased to exist; displaced persons had no place in the history of international law and constituted, at most, a temporary phenomenon.
12. The CHAIRMAN agreed that the Committee should not deal with the problem of displaced persons and should confine its consideration to refugees and stateless persons. Moreover, the Committee apparently considered it desirable to prepare a convention on the international status of such persons.
13. Mr. RAIN (France) stated that while there was general agreement on the desirability of drawing up a draft convention, the situation was less clear with regard to the scope of such a convention. All the members of the Committee apparently considered that the draft convention should apply to refugees. His delegation saw little if any difference between a refugee and a displaced person, and would therefore have no objection to the inclusion of displaced persons in the category of those to whom protection would be extended under the draft convention.
14. There was, on the other hand, a very real difference between refugees and stateless persons: it was by no means true that all refugees were stateless persons, or vice versa. The French Government had defined its attitude on that aspect of the question during previous discussions in the Economic and Social Council and in the General Assembly. The draft convention should be confined to refugees, whether displaced persons or otherwise.
15. Mr. HENKIN (United States of America) concurred in the views expressed by the representative of France. Like the French Government, the Government of the United States considered that the problem of refugees differed from that of stateless persons and ought to be considered separately. He suggested that the difficulty could be met for the time being by postponing consideration of the title of the draft convention until the substantive part of the document had been examined.
16. The CHAIRMAN welcomed the suggestion of the United States representative. He suggested that the Committee should begin the examination of the articles of the draft convention itself (E/AC.32/2, pp. 15 et seq.), leaving for consideration at a later stage not only the title but also the preamble.
17. He noted that the Secretariat's draft of article 1 included three possible methods of defining the term "refugees". A fourth proposal had been submitted by the delegation of the United Kingdom, while a fifth would soon be distributed by the French delegation. Since the problem of defining refugees constituted the crux of the entire matter, he called for a general discussion on the subject.
18. Mr. HENKIN (United States of America) thought that the question of statelessness and that of refugees should be treated separately. It should be borne in mind that the persons coming under the draft convention would become proteges of the United Nations, their interests being looked after by the High Commissioner. They would thus constitute a responsibility of the United Nations, and the latter should therefore take particular care whom it included in the scope of the draft convention.
19. The applicability of the draft convention should consequently be limited to refugees. It should not be based upon a confusion between the humanitarian problem of the refugees and the primarily legal problem of stateless persons, which should be dealt with by a body of legal experts, but should not be included in the proposed convention.
20. Sir Leslie BRASS (United Kingdom) agreed that the problem of stateless persons differed in several respects from that of refugees. There were, however, several points of similarity. Thus the draft convention prepared by the Secretariat, which formed a useful basis of discussion, dealt with such questions as personal status, property right, the right of association, equal access to courts, taxation and social security. In such matters the same principle should apply to both stateless persons and refugees. It was in support of that principle that his delegation had proposed an amendment (3/AC.32/L.2) to article 1 of the draft convention. In that connexion, Sir Leslie emphasized the use of the words "except where otherwise provided" which appeared in the United Kingdom amendment; his delegation recognized that there could not be identity of treatment of all persons. Clearly, for example, the same laws could not be applied to persons seeking admission to a country and to refugees already in that country; on the other hand the same laws could be applied to the latter and to resident stateless persons. The question was primarily a practical one, although it was true that some questions of law were involved and his delegation was approaching the question from the practical point of view. To mention just one aspect of the matter: in order to travel, resident stateless persons would need certain travel documents, and the draft convention ought to contain suitable provisions. The United Kingdom delegation would in due time submit concrete suggestions in that connexion. In general, he agreed with he purport of article 22 of the draft convention.
21. The draft convention need not be as restrictive in its definition of refugees as the constitution of the International Refugee Organization, since it did not envisage financial assistance, as the latter had done. It could therefore afford to be more liberal in its definition of refugees. It would be advantageous if stateless persons could benefit from provisions to be included in the draft convention. From a practical point of view that would not be difficult, since particular categories of persons could always be explicitly excluded from the scope of individual articles of the draft convention. Article 35 of the draft convention prepared by the Secretariat would enable the signatories to enter reservations concerning the provisions of articles; that also should enable the document to be drafted in a liberal manner.
22. Mr. RAIN (France) observed that there were two categories of stateless persons: those who were also refugees, who would, of course benefit from the draft convention, and those who were not refugees. Almost all refugees were in need, a fact which gave the problem its special urgency. The same could not be said of stateless persons who were not also refugees.
23. Refugees stood in need of assistance and of protection. The IRO, which had been entrusted with a short-range task, had provided such assistance to certain specified categories of refugees. The draft convention, on the other hand, would have a long-range application and should confine itself to the question of protection of refugees.
24. Mr. CHA (China) said that, in the view of his delegation, the proposed convention should be applicable not only to refugees but also to stateless persons, as suggested in resolution 248 (IX) of the Economic and Social Council. Article 15, paragraph 1, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized the right of everyone to a nationality, lacked legal protection. That defect could be remedied by including them within the purview of the proposed convention.
25. The definition of the term "refugees" given in Annex 1 to the Constitution of the IRO was valuable as a guide. He wondered whether the United States representative thought that the definition of the term should, for the purposes of the convention, be limited to that used in the IRO Constitution. The Chinese delegation favoured a more comprehensive definition.
26. He was glad to note the extensive powers conferred by the General Assembly at its fourth session upon the High Commissioner. What was needed in addition was consideration, in the draft convention, of the legal aspects, with a view to affording legal protection to both refugees and stateless persons, on the lines indicated by the representative of the United Kingdom.
27. Mr. HENKIN (United States of America) remarked that his position was not very different from that of the Chinese representative. While the United States Government felt that there was no acute need for the United Nations to concern itself with the problem of statelessness as such, those stateless persons who were also refugees would properly come within the scope of the proposed convention. It also felt that the term "refugees" should be defined in generous but precise terms, and was prepared to give sympathetic consideration to various categories of persons who required protection, provided that it was made quite clear what those categories were.
28. The problem of stateless persons who were not refugees should, however, be kept separate from the question of refugees, especially since there were doubtless stateless persons who were in no need of protection by the United Nations.
29. The CHAIRMAN, speaking as the representative of Canada, said that in the view of his Government, the Committee should not attempt too much; a limited convention that was generally acceptable was worth more than one which aimed at impossible ideals and was not ratified by Member States.
30. There might be political objections to stating in the convention that refugees were persons defined as such in the Constitution of the IRO and such other persons as the General Assembly might from time to time decide; and objections of a practical order to vesting in the High Commissioner the power to designate persons and groups of persons to whom the convention applied. He drew attention to the possibility of a third solution: it might be left to each country to determine which persons on its territory were refugees and consequently would be protected by the convention. The determination might be made on the basis of whether a person had in fact placed himself in a position in which he was unable to obtain protection from the country of which he was a national, or had lost the right to such protection solely for domestic political reasons (thus excluding common criminals). Given good will on the part of the countries concerned - and without it the whole convention would be useless - some such arrangement might present the most practical solution of the problem.
31. Mr. HENKIN (United States of America) replied that, if reliance were to be placed entirely on the good will of States, there would be no need for a convention. Moreover, should the good will be lacking in any one instance, the refugees concerned would have no legal rights they could press. It was for the Committee to draft a convention endowing them with such rights; States could then demonstrate their good will by accepting the convention and observing its provisions.
32. Mr. RAIN (France) agreed both that the convention should not aim at absolute perfection, lest it become unacceptable, and that it should give legal protection to refugees rather than rely entirely on good will, even though his own country's good will in that field was a matter of record. Furthermore, the High Commissioner should supervise the application of the convention. The latter would be able to negotiate supplementary agreements with States willing to grant wider rights to the refugees on their territory and it was to be hoped that he would do so. The proposed convention should grant to refugees a basic minimum of rights, in order not to prejudice its widest possible acceptance by Member States.
33. He added that France, true to its tradition, would like the definition of the term "refugees" to be as generous as possible; since, before the proposed convention entered into force, new and undreamed-of categories of refugees might be created, the definition should be couched in general terms, if necessary with specific exceptions, but should not enumerate the categories to be protected. In view of the turbulent states of the world, no such list could ever be complete.
34. Mr. HENKIN (United States of America) suggested that, before dealing with the definition of the term "refugees", the Committee might decide whether the proposed convention should apply to stateless persons who were not refugees.
35. Mr. PEREZ PEROZO (Venezuela) said that he, for one, needed time for reflection before arriving at a definite opinion on that question.
36. The CHAIRMAN stated that the discussion would be continued at the following meeting.
The meeting rose at 12.50 p.m.