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Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems, First Session: Summary Record of the Sixth Meeting Held at Lake Success, New York, on Thursday, 19 January 1950, at 11 a.m.

Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems, First Session: Summary Record of the Sixth Meeting Held at Lake Success, New York, on Thursday, 19 January 1950, at 11 a.m.

26 January 1950

Chairman: Mr. Leslie CHANCE Canada
Members: Mr. CUVELIER Belgium
Mr. CHA China
Mr. LARSEN Denmark
Mr. RAIN France
Mr. KURAL Turkey
Sir Leslie BRASS United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland
Mr. HENKIN United States of America
Mr. PEREZ PEROZO Venezuela

Representatives of specialized agencies:

Mr. WEIS International Refugee Organization

Consultant from a non-governmental organization (Category A):

Mr. STOLZ American Federation of Labor (AF of L)

Mr. John HUMPHREY Director, Human Rights Division
Mr. HOGAN Secretary of the Committee


1. The CHAIRMAN observed that the Committee had to decide whether the definition of the term "refugee" which would appear in article 1 of the draft convention should be confined to general terms or whether it should be a detailed statement of the various categories of refugees to whom the convention would apply. When that question of principle had been resolved, a drafting sub-committee could work out the actual text of article 1 on the basis of the proposals submitted.

2. Sir Leslie BRASS (United Kingdom), commenting upon the revised draft of article 1 prepared by his delegation (E/AC.32/L.2/Rev.1), noted that the Committee's terms of reference contained no suggestion that the draft convention should be restricted to the categories of persons enumerated in the Constitution of the International Refugee Organization or to those which had been the subject of previous conventions. The annex to General Assembly resolution 319 (IV) setting forth what persons would come under the competence of the High Commissioner's Office clearly stated that additional groups of refugees would not automatically be brought under that jurisdiction. Their inclusion would be determined by international conventions or agreements approved by the Assembly. It would be wise to make it clear in a protocol that the United Nations undertook no financial obligation to assist additional refugee groups brought within the draft Convention which was directed to the position of refugees in the countries in which they were resident.

3. The United Kingdom delegation preferred a general definition similar to the revised draft proposal to a detailed enumeration of refugee groups such as that contained in the IRO Constitution. The IRO list was rapidly becoming obsolete. It quite properly gave priority to the protection of certain groups which had suffered most severely from the war and was concerned largely with material assistance to those persons. On the other hand, it excluded certain groups for reasons which were quite justified at the time but which warranted review in the light of subsequent events.

4. Moreover, the IRO definition of refugees was extremely complicated and required careful interpretation. A large staff had been engaged in building up a body of interpretive decisions for that reason. It should be noted that the United States draft proposal was intended to be interpreted in the light of those precedents. Such continuous interpretation would create further difficulty for signatories in applying the convention.

5. On the contrary, the revised United Kingdom draft constituted a simple, easily understandable, general definition. It would obviously have to be modified in relation to the article on admission, for it applied only to persons who had already left the country in which they had suffered persecution. Its main virtue, however, lay in the fact that it extended protection to as many persons as possible. The phrase "good and sufficient reason" relating to those persons who did not wish to return to their country of residence had been used purposely in order to include a variety of motives other than fear of persecution which might have influenced their decision.

6. Mr. RAIN (France) suggested that the revised United Kingdom draft might be used as a basis of discussion. The French delegation was prepared to support it in principle, subject to slight modifications.

7. With regard to the reference to the right of asylum in the French draft definition (E/AC.32/L.3/Corr.1), which caused concern to some delegations, he would be prepared to omit that reference, and would like to explain that his Government was not contemplating a new obligation but merely intended to recall a provision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which could suitably be introduced in the preamble of article 1.

8. Mr. HENKIN (United States of America), as in the previous meetings, favoured a detailed enumeration of categories of refugees in a definition which would constitute a specific statement of all persons to whom the convention would apply. He agreed with the United Kingdom representative that the list should be extended to bring as many persons as possible under protection, but he questioned the desirability of imposing obligations upon signatory States for refugee groups the nature and number of which were as yet unknown.

9. The Committee could not, as the representative of Israel had pointed out, ignore the precedents established by the United Nations on the question of refugees. The General Assembly, which would ultimately have to approve the draft convention, had accepted the principle of an exact definition of refugees to ensure their legal protection by the United Nations. That principle upon which the IRO Constitution had been based, could not be contravened. Admittedly the IRO Constitution was not a sacrosanct document; it did, however, contain the most comprehensive available listing of categories of refugees. That list was subject to modification: it could be reduced or expanded by the Committee in accordance with the need.

10. Mr. LARSEN (Denmark) stated that the policy of his Government, in matters like the one which occupied the Committee, was to wait for the result of the deliberations and see if the Danish Parliament would approve it. That, however, did not mean that the representative of Denmark would not play his part in the work of the Committee.

11. The Committee had to prepare a draft convention acceptable to all, or at any rate to the vast majority, of the Member States. In that connexion the question had arisen whether the scope of the draft convention ought to be defined in general terms or in enumerative detail. While admitting the humanitarian merits of a broad definition the delegate of Denmark reminded the Committee that politics was the art of the possible.

12. He had taken note of the French representative's withdrawal of the term "right to asylum" from the French proposal; nevertheless, it seemed to him that the French proposal was still based upon article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That document differed from the proposed convention, since the former was based upon the human rights of the individual, and the latter would set forth the duties of States. Ideally, those two considerations should go hand in hand. It was not, however, prudent to seek to introduce into the draft convention more than was actually to be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: article 14 of the Declaration did indeed proclaim that "everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution"; but it did not by any means follow that a State must grant asylum to every person seeking it.

13. He had been impressed by the fact that the draft convention, prepared by members of the Secretariat who had worked in connexion with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, did not mention the duty of granting asylum; the omission could not have been accidental. Neither did the French draft speak of the obligation of a state to grant asylum. Consequently, it behaved the Committee to be equally careful in alluding to article 14 of the Declaration.

14. In spite of those considerations the Danish Government - as also, no doubt, the other Scandinavian Governments - would be inclined to favour a broad solution and would feel free to examine any proposal which the Committee might eventually present.

15. There was, however, a further consideration. It was true that the representatives in the Committee were speaking as representatives of their respective Governments and, as such, should not propose anything which they knew to be unacceptable to their own Governments. On the other hand, the task of the Committee members was not limited to the presentation of what their own Governments would approve, for they also represented the entire membership of the United Nations and it was their task to prepare an instrument acceptable to all or most of the Members. He had concluded from the foregoing discussion that a broad, general definition would frighten many Governments and that he should therefore favour the enumerative approach.

16. He reserved his right to comment at a later stage upon details of categories of refugees to which the draft convention would apply, as also his right to comment upon a point raised by the proposal of the United States (E/AC.32/L.4), namely, the question of certain categories of Germans.

17. Mr. GUERREIRO (Brazil) stated that in the view of his Government the definition of refugees to whom the draft convention would apply should be as precise as possible. It would be very difficult indeed for his Government to accept a convention which failed to specify precisely the scope of its applicability. The enumeration of categories of refugees eligible for protection under such a convention should be regarded as provisional: it could always be extended, should subsequent developments render that desirable, by supplementary protocols. He welcomed the addendum to the United States proposal (E/AC.32.L.4/Add.1) because it explicitly provided for a subsequent extension. While that would have been possible in any event, the United States addendum had the good psychological effect of facilitating the initiation of supplementary protocols.

18. Mr. Guerreiro agreed with the Chairman's suggestion concerning a working group on the enumeration of categories of refugees to which the draft convention would apply.

19. Mr. CUVELIER (Belgium) stated that his Government was in favour of a general definition, and would therefore support the United Kingdom proposal.

20. Although in the final analysis, both the method of enumeration advocated by the United States representative and the general approach suggested by the United Kingdom representative might lead to the same result, inasmuch as additions could be made to a definition of the first kind and restrictions imposed on a definition of the second. Nevertheless, there were three important points to be taken into account.

21. First, the United States proposal was extremely cautious; it confined itself to concepts accepted in the past and could not be said to represent a step forward in international co-operation, as the United Kingdom proposal undoubtedly did. Secondly, whereas under the United Kingdom proposal any new categories of refugees that might be created in the future would immediately and automatically be protected by the convention, under the United States proposal they would have to await new decisions which might be slow in coming. Finally, experience has shown that whenever the work of small committees had been reviewed by larger bodies it had always been revised in a conservative and restrictive spirit.

22. He therefore urged the Committee to adopt a generous attitude and not to limit unduly a convention the scope of which was likely to be further reduced by the organs which would deal with it subsequently.

23. Mr. CHA (Chaina) said that his Government supported the United States concept of a definition by enumeration. He welcomed the addendum to its original proposal circulated by the United States in document E/AC.32/L.4/Add.1. Thus supplemented, the proposal would follow the idea contained in paragraph 3 of the annex of the General Assembly resolution on refugees and stateless persons of 3 December 1949.

24. Mr. PEREZ PEROZO (Venezuela) was pleased by the United States addendum to its own proposal; it resolved his principal objection to that draft, which he was consequently able to support.

25. The CHAIRMAN noted that the consensus of opinion in the Committee was that the term "refugee" should be defined by listing the various categories to which the draft convention would apply.

26. Sir Leslie BRASS (United Kingdom) reserved the right of his Government to re-open the question at a later time, after giving full consideration to the views expressed in the Committee.

27. Mr. RAIN (France) said that his Government would renew its efforts in the Economic and Social Council and, if the occasion arose, in the General Assembly, to obtain the adoption of a general - and far more generous - definition.

28. He remarked in passing that the Chinese representative should consider the inadequacy of the solution he had championed. Under the decision taken, any new groups of refugees, such as those which might conceivably be created as a result of the situation in China, would have to await a session of the General Assembly and a decision by that body before they could enjoy the benefits of the convention.

29. The CHAIRMAN observed that, inasmuch as the Committee had reached a decision of principle, the actual drafting of article 1 could be left to a working group, which could use the United States proposal as a basic document. He thereupon appointed the representatives of France, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States of America to the working group.

30. Mr. KURAL (Turkey) expressed the hope that the working group would take into account the suggestions made by the Israel representative at the previous meeting, with a view to shortening the text of the United States proposal

The meeting rose at 12.35 p.m.