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Closing Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group of the Peace Implementation Council and the Stability Pact, Geneva, 11 September 2000

Speeches and statements

Closing Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group of the Peace Implementation Council and the Stability Pact, Geneva, 11 September 2000

11 September 2000

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today's meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group has highlighted reasons for optimism as we look to the future in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Refugees and displaced people are themselves now in the search for lasting solutions in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The key message to be taken from this meeting is that we must not let this window of opportunity pass.

During our discussions, several delegations have echoed my assessment of the meaningful progress in minority returns in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many statements expressed satisfaction that minorities are returning to places that would have seemed unimaginable just last year, but also noted that the situation poses new challenges.

Many speakers also expressed their understanding for the need for new and genuine political will to facilitate return. They called upon the governments of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to press forward with economic and political reform efforts. Particularly, as a few delegates noted, local political will is absolutely essential. I join delegations emphasising again that the success of the property restitution process will be a crucial test.

We heard many times today that sustainable return will depend fundamentally upon speeding up reconstruction and creating jobs. With support from the donor community, UNHCR can help returnees with targeted humanitarian assistance and quick impact projects. However, our efforts must be followed and complemented by much larger-scale interventions aimed at rebuilding houses, restoring utilities and other infrastructure and re-starting the economy. As Mrs. Robinson reminded us, the basic socio-economic conditions for return, such as housing, health care and education, are also human rights.

Many speakers have referred to the importance of injecting new international resources at this crucial juncture. I am very grateful for the generous support provided for UNHCR's humanitarian programmes in the region over the years, and I welcome the announcement of new commitments here today. I can also only second Mr. Koschnik's impassioned plea: We do not need more pledges, we need money now.

Turning to the situation in Kosovo, many of you welcomed the early winding up of the humanitarian relief operation. As Dr. Kouchner pointed out, the massive humanitarian effort ensured that several hundred thousand returnees made it through the winter. No one died of exposure or starvation. This was no small achievement.

During our deliberations, concern for the situation of the non-Albanian minority communities in Kosovo was also universal. The continuing violence and intimidation is simply unacceptable, and it stands in stark contrast to one of the declared purposes of the international intervention - to preserve a multi-ethnic Kosovo.

Stabilisation of the minority communities remaining in Kosovo is a necessary first step toward eventual return by those who have left. UNHCR will work closely with UNMIK in carrying out this difficult task. I noted similar commitments by our agency colleagues and welcomed the assurances from several government delegations that they will continue to extend protection to non-Albanian refugees from Kosovo who cannot return safely at this time.

Finally, I was reassured that so many speakers expressed their preoccupation with the dire humanitarian situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. More than 700,000 refugees and displaced persons have strained the already weakened social safety net in that country beyond the breaking point. I would like to assure you that, together with our NGO partners, we will continue to provide necessary humanitarian assistance to vulnerable refugees and displaced persons in Serbia and Montenegro.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing our meeting, I would like to return to one of the themes of my opening remarks: co-existence. Living harmoniously after so much bitter conflict will take time - perhaps many years. But the recent positive developments in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina show us that the goals of tolerance, acceptance and co-existence may be closer now. Economic opportunity for all is the foundation upon which reconciliation and re-integration ultimately rests.

While I am leaving office in December, I will not lose interest in the people of the countries of the former Yugoslavia. I am confident that - with the support of all of you present today - they will succeed in building a better future.

Thank you.