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Colloquium on the Development in the Law of Refugees | Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with particular Reference to the 1951 Convention and the Statute of the Office of UNHCR

Speeches and statements

Colloquium on the Development in the Law of Refugees | Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with particular Reference to the 1951 Convention and the Statute of the Office of UNHCR

21 April 1965

It is a gratifying experience for to the present at the opening of this colloquium on the development in the law relating to refugees. The attendance of so many distinguished lawyers at this Colloquium, at no small inconvenience to themselves and amid numerous other commitments, is a most important and encouraging event.

The Colloquium is meeting at a significant juncture when, once again, new refugee situations have unfortunately arisen and when the international community is faced with the question whether these situations to not call for appropriate measures in the legal sphere. At the same time we are witnessing interesting developments in the field of international refugee work. These developments are characterized by a growing recognition of a humanitarian duty to grant asylum and by a more effective and increasingly universal co-operation for the solution of refugee problems. There is also an increasing understanding of the purely humanitarian and non-political rôle of the international organ entrusted with the protection of refugees, at present the Office of UNHCR. This international organ is concerned exclusively with the status of refugees and the improvement of their position, and it seeks the solution of refugee problems irrespective of their causes. To some extent, however, these development in the factual situation to not at present find an appropriate counterpart in the legal sphere. The most important problem that has been raised in this connexion is that of the dateline in the Refugee Convention of 1951, - the basic international instrument relating to refugees. The fact that due to the dateline an increasing number of refugees are excluded from the scope of the 1951 Convention and the resulting discrepancy between the personal scope of the Convention and that of the Statute of my Office are matters of considerable concern. The problem arising out of this situation can, of course, be approached in various ways. The most fruitful approach would, however, seem to be to consider possible solutions in the dispassionate atmosphere of a purely legal forum like the present Colloquium. If considered exclusively from the point of view of legal technique, the problems of the dateline could be appropriate legal instrument removing the dateline from the Convention, thereby extending its provisions to all refugee situations both present and future. There may, however, be certain considerations of a practical nature which would prevent the adoption of such a solution by the States Parties to the convention. This may render it necessary to find a compromise between universality of any new obligation assumed on the one hand and effectiveness of such obligation on the other. It is a source of considerable satisfaction that this important problem of the dateline will now be examined by this Colloquium of distinguished lawyers. Should the Colloquium see its way to making concrete proposals for a solution, it is my sincere hope that such proposals will also possess considerable weight when the question is pursued further, because they take such practical aspects into account.

The Colloquium, within the scope of its theme, may wish to consider, in addition to the question of the dateline, other question relating to the development in the law of refugees. It is for the Colloquium to determine whether such additional questions may appropriately be considered, also having regard to the time available. Of these other possible questions which the Colloquium may wish to consider I would like to mention specially the question of asylum which has a number of important aspects and the question of legal instruments affecting refugees which may be drawn up within the framework of regional organisations.

In conclusion I would like to express my very sincere gratitude to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for having made it possible to hold this Colloquium, to the Rockefeller Foundation for making the Villa Serbelloni available for your deliberations and also to the Swiss Government for their special financial contribution. My greatest debt of gratitude is, however, to the participants in the Colloquium for their willingness to devote their time, knowledge and skill to the solution of humanitarian problems which we all have very much at heart.