Ministerial Meeting of States Parties to the 1951 Convention and/or 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees - Statement of Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Geneva, 12 December 2001
Check against delivery
My dear friends,
I am so sorry that I cannot be with you in person today.
Your meeting is of great importance. It marks the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention on which all our work to protect refugees is founded. Even more important, it gives us a much-needed chance to think how we can continue to protect refugees in the new international environment, and how we can face new challenges - such as migration, terrorism, and mass influxes of refugees - that have arisen since the Convention was drafted.
If only the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were fully respected, there would be no refugee problem.
Refugees move out of compulsion, not by choice. They need the protection of the international community because their own countries fail to protect them.
Last year, in my report to the Millennium Assembly, I called on all States to ratify a core group of 25 treaties "that represent the objectives of the Charter and reflect the Organization's values."
The 1951 Convention is one of those treaties. A total of 143 States are now parties, either to the Convention itself and/or to its 1967 Protocol. I hope all other States will soon become parties, so that we have a truly universal framework for refugee protection.
Responsibility for protecting and helping refugees does not only lie with the States hosting them. It is also a collective responsibility of the whole world. States on the "front line" need the full support of the community of nations to help them fulfil their obligations, especially the obligation of non-refoulement, which protects refugees from being driven back into the arms of their persecutors.
Let us never forget that refugees are men, women and children like ourselves, with the same human rights, hopes and desires as the rest of us. Unlike us, they cannot go home.
They depend on the protection and solidarity of the communities hosting them. But they also have skills and potential which contribute to the societies hosting them, and which should be recognized.
I regret to say that today there is a tendency, in some quarters, to suggest that the Convention is somehow out of date or no longer valid. In the minds of many, refugees are equated at best with economic migrants, and at worst with cheats, criminals or even terrorists.
We must refute this gross calumny. Refugees are not criminals. They are victims of autocratic or abusive regimes, of conflict, and of criminal smuggling rings. The Convention provides a perfectly good basis for separating those who genuinely need international protection from those who do not.
That is why the process of Global Consultations on International Protection is so important. These Consultations, of which this ministerial meeting is part, are helping to show how strong and relevant the Convention still is. They have begun to map out a clear agenda for refugee protection in the new century. I congratulate Ruud Lubbers on carrying through this unique consultative process. I am sure it will help us find new ways to tackle both new and old challenges, and to strengthen respect for the Convention throughout the world.
Thank you very much.