Chairman's Summing-up by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Humanitarian Issues Working Group of the Peace Implementation Council, 17 December 1997
Humanitarian Issues Working Group
of the Peace Implementation Council,
Chairman's Summing Up
(Geneva, 17 December 1997)
As we conclude this meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group, I would like to sum up the key points raised in today's constructive discussion.
These discussions have been inspired and guided by the conclusions of last week's meeting in Bonn. Our Working Group - a Working Group of the Peace Implementation Council - has examined the humanitarian situation in the former Yugoslavia with particular emphasis on solutions for refugees and the displaced.
First there is a clear convergence of views regarding progress in 1997. Partial satisfaction has been expressed regarding progress on repatriation and return. Results in terms of numbers have, however, been tempered by the virtual absence of returns from the region. Relocation has been identified as an emerging reality. There has been widespread support for UNHCR's position that only voluntary relocation is acceptable and that a code of conduct for new construction be developed through the Return and Relocation Task Force. There was also general agreement that majority returns, so called, "easy returns" are over.
I have been heartened by the unanimous support expressed for UNHCR's major objective for 1998: achieving a breakthrough in minority returns. I am also pleased by the recognition of the Open Cities initiative as the principal vehicle for achieving this objective. There is also strong support for the leadership roles which authorities in Sarajevo and Banja Luka could play in declaring their communities Open Cities. Many speakers endorsed the idea of rapidly commencing an enlarged and co-operative planning exercise involving local authorities, UNHCR and the other members of the Return and Reconstruction Task Force in the period leading up to the return-related donor conference in early 1998.
There is recognition that the repatriation of refugees in larger numbers than in 1997 will be conditioned by the capacity of the authorities to allow minorities to return. This is why our planning document projects a possible range of returns: between 138,000 and 220,000; the lower figure reflecting the possibility of continued stalemate if we do not succeed in generating minority returns.
UNHCR is determined to maintain its leadership role, particularly with regard to minority returns and Open Cities. However, as many participants noted, the revitalisation of the economy, the creation of jobs and the rehabilitation of social infrastructure are essential if returns are to be sustainable. In this connection, I welcome the strengthening of the Return and Reconstruction Task Force and pledge UNHCR's full support to this reinforced structure. This support will include the assignment of a full-time liaison officer to Mr. Bearpark's team.
Regarding Croatia, I would like once more to congratulate Ambassador Walker and all who served with UNTAES for a job well done. In addition, today, we have all welcomed the creation and initial efforts of the Croatian National Commission for the Re-establishment of Trust. Welcome, too, are assurances that these efforts represent a long-term commitment by the Government and people of Croatia, extending beyond the re-establishment of Croatian authority over the Danubian region.
In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the meeting noted the continuation of humanitarian needs, particularly in collective centres and called on donors and humanitarian organisations to maintain their support.
Regionally, I have noted the support expressed for a reinvigorated regional process of planning for durable solutions. In this context, I call on the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its two Entities, and in Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to participate fully in that process and to resist any temptation to politicise it. Above all, I call on the authorities to approach the consultations my office will launch, in good faith, with as their central and paramount focus, the interest of the victims of the war and their right to resume their lives in security and dignity.