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Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, twenty-eighth session, Geneva, 4 October 1977

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, twenty-eighth session, Geneva, 4 October 1977

4 October 1977

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, I deem it a privilege to welcome at this year's session so many observer delegations. The presence of such a large number of Governments as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations gives this session a unique character. This broad interest in our work does justice to the wide-ranging humanitarian activities undertaken by UNHCR in all regions of the world. It is also a sign of widening interest and increasing support to the cause of millions of refugees and displaced persons throughout the world.

I am glad to share with the Committee the major preoccupation of my Office. However, instead of presenting a survey of various situations of concern to UNHCR, I propose to concentrate on some main themes and related technical details which are of immediate interest to this session. To my regret, I am compelled this year to impose on the Committee institutional technicalities. I would rather have done without a text and instead to have given you the human story in all its tragic details of millions of uprooted people whose cause we espouse. The misery of refugees and displaced persons does not allow us to forget for a moment that, behind the statistics and figures, there are human beings whose welfare is our joint and primary concern.

If I am encouraged to adopt this variation in presentation, it is partly because the documentation available to the Committee, and, in particular, the report on assistance activities contained in document A/AC.96/539 and its addendum, is the most detailed and comprehensive hitherto presented. I would, consequently, not wish to repeat what is already available in an integrated form. Additionally, at the ad hoc meeting of Permanent Representatives in Geneva of States members of the Executive Committee on 11 July, I provided in my statement a full account of latest developments. These related mainly to situations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, notably the assistance programmes in southern Africa, Indo-Chinese displaced persons and refugees including thousands of "boat people"' in various parts of south-east Asia, the continuing problem of assistance to and resettlement of Latin American refugees, especially those in Argentina.

May I, Mr. Chairman, add a few words on situations since July, particularly in view of the fact that they have substantially increased the 1978 budget proposals.

First, the Government of Angola has requested assistance in view of recent influxes of Zairian refugees. Secondly, we have received a request from the Government of the Republic of Djibouti for assistance to refugees from Ethiopia. In both these cases, the need for immediate relief and the relatively high cost of durable solutions call for an important financial input, amounting to some $5 million. Thirdly, the Government of Kenya has submitted a request for help in the rehabilitation of asylum seekers from Uganda. Finally, increased aid measures are required in Mozambique. Recently, Assistant Secretary-General Farah led a mission to that country following a request of the Security Council. While some of the measures proposed by Mr. Farah had already been foreseen in our budget proposals, the uncovered balance is now presented in the addendum of the assistance report. Salient features of these and other assistance proposals shall be brought to the attention of the Committee when the agenda item relating to assistance is taken up.

Turning to the question of international protection which was discussed by the Sub-Committee yesterday, I only wish here to reiterate the importance I attach to our protection function and the understanding and support required from you for this vital aspect of our work. Specifically, there is a need to strengthen UNHCR's protection function, firstly through further accession to international instruments such as the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol and, secondly, as regards those States which have already acceded, through the elaboration of procedures for implementation of these instruments without which accession loses much of its meaning. My Office continues, unswervingly, to ensure to the extent possible, that the practice of States conforms to the generally recognized humanitarian principles and basic rights reflected in these and other relevant instruments. In this connexion, it is important that member Governments of this Committee review their individual positions. For example, of the 31 members of this Committee, six or about 20 per cent of the membership, are not parties to both the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol. Of these, three members are party to no international instruments, while three others are party to one of the two main instruments.

What is more serious, however, is that only 12 Governments out of the 31 represented in this Committee have established procedures for the implementation of these instruments particularly as regards determination of refugee status. In other words, 60 per cent of the membership has yet to develop national legislation or well-defined administrative procedures on matters provided for in the two international instruments.

Mr. Chairman, with your permission, I would now like to briefly comment on the role of the Executive Committee itself, particularly in view of the fact that parallel to the evolution in the work of my Office, the work of the Committee as also considerably evolved. Ever since its establishment, this Committee has been an unfailing guide and its unanimous support has always been warmly welcomed and appreciated by my Office. Since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 1166 (XII) of 26 November 1957 establishing the Committee, it has remained a faithful ally whose helping hand has been needed over the years well beyond its original function of advising the High Commissioner on his functions under the Statute of his Office. Its deliberations on protection matters, now further consolidated through the establishment of the Sub-Committee and its advice on the so-called "special operations" have proved most valuable. The recurring pattern of the large-scale assistance operations, including those for which UNHCR was requested by the Secretary-General to act as co-ordinator of assistance from the United Nations system, necessitated the streamlining of reporting procedures. This was recognized by the General Assembly in its resolution 3271 (XXIX) of 10 December 1974 in which it endorsed the decision of the Executive Committee to report on "special humanitarian tasks in the same manner as on other activities financed from trust funds under his regular programme.

The expanding role of the Executive Committee, made necessary by the scale and complexity of new situations of concern to the Office, further emphasizes its position as one of the principal tools to promote the humanitarian policies and actions of the United Nations. At the same time, by bringing the Committee increasingly into the limelight, this evolution also brings it under closer scrutiny. Consequently, there is need for its members to be pioneers in the field of assistance to the uprooted and to serve collectively as an incentive to other Governments.

In this connexion, I have already indicated what could be done in the field of international protection. Let me now comment on the material assistance aspect.

There is an increasing number of Governments giving their financial support to the programmes: those contributing to the General Programmes number more than 80 while the on-going special programmes have received contributions from 57 Governments. However, as regards the Executive Committee if one were to take the current year as an example, seven member Governments have not contributed to UNHCR's General Programmes, while, for the special programmes, 14 members (or 45 per cent of the membership) have provided no financial support. Additionally, as an indication of the level of participation, 10 members contributed over 86 per cent of the total received for the General Programmes while, for the special programmes, seven member Governments accounted for some 94 per cent of the total funds contributed to date.

The imbalance in the level of support on a global basis must be redressed and this Committee must show the way. I look forward to a radical change in the situation just as I welcome the evolution in the role of the Committee which explains the corresponding attempt on the part of my Office to adjust and improve the documentation prepared for you on which I would now like to comment.

My Office has been invited by the Executive Committee, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions as well as the General Assembly to present integrated and comprehensive reports on our over-all activities. This evolution, justified by circumstances and a recurrent pattern of various humanitarian actions undertaken by UNHCR, is explained in document A/AC.96/540, to which I should like especially to draw your attention. As regards the form of presentation, I believe it represents an improvement in terms of clearer and fuller reporting. This is testified by the last report of the Advisory Committee available to the Committee in document A/AC.96/546, where in paragraphs 2 and 6 the Advisory Committee has recorded its approval and support. However, even though the amalgamation of programmes into two broad categories, i.e. General and Special Programmes, is a question of form, the change can have implications of substantive nature. The question may be asked, for instance, as to why such and such assistance operations should not be classified as general programmes, or vice versa. The fact of the matter is that, in the absence of clear guidance from pertinent bodies, UNHCR cannot take upon itself arbitrarily to establish basic criteria. As best, I can use the existing financial and other rules for purposes of delineation. Thus, all operations financed from Trust Funds as defined in the Financial Rules have been put together as Special Programmes. It is, however, conceivable that, at a given stage, when the nature of financing changes, any such operation becomes a part of General Programmes.

This distinction leads me to another fundamental question, i.e. the distinction between a refugee and a displaced person. Judging from the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly, a displaced person would appear to be one who, while not fulfilling strictu sensu the refugee eligibility criteria, is in a situation analogous to that of a refugee. Additionally, it is felt by some that persons who do not cross an internationally recognized border should be treated as displaced persons. Here again, there is need for clarification. A beginning could be made in the Executive Committee if the member Governments so desire.

It seems to me that the question of definitions and criteria is as fundamental as the terms of reference of the Executive Committee to which I referred earlier. While it will clearly be up to the Economic and Social Council or the General Assembly to define or modify them further, I see advantage in a constructive exchange of views within this Committee.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, when faced with emergency situations requiring urgent humanitarian assistance, my main concern was not the terminology to be used for those operations or whether the funds needed for them should appear under column X, Y or Z of a financial chart. I was more concerned with the arrangements for helping the victims to survive, do everything to bring them succour speedily and efficiently and to promote durable solutions to their problems. This does not mean, however, that institutional or legal arrangements relating to these operations are any less important than the operation itself. It simply means that because of the very nature of these humanitarian operations, action often preceded legislative texts. The unanimous support given by the pertinent organs including, in particular, the General Assembly bears testimony to the fact that the international community approved of this course of action.

Mr. Chairman, I should now like to turn to the financing of the UNHCR assistance programmes for this year and for 1978 - a subject of special concern to me on which I should like to seek your guidance and support.

The General Programmes for 1977, as will be seen from the documents before you, will require an additional $6 million, bringing the target up to some $24.3 million. Fortunately, taking into account important special contributions pledged or expected, I am hopeful that adequate funds will become available to finance the full requirements this year. However, the outlook for 1978 is bleak. Although the total requirements are expected to be much lower in 10.78 than in 1977, the needs under the General Programmes have substantially increased to a target of $35.2 million.

This amount is based on actual needs and the programmes have been carefully planned to ensure that the very minimum needs of the refugees will be met. Duplication with other sources of aid, bilateral and multilateral, is scrupulously avoided.

May I emphasize two important points. First, in elaborating the target for 1978, the requirements of the General Programmes have substantially increased while those of the Special Programmes have decreased. This change may have implications for some donor Governments for whom pledges towards the Special Programmes may be more feasible than the doubling or tripling of annual contributions to the General Programmes. Secondly, at last year's session, delegates mentioned the desirability of avoiding mid-year appeals for additional funds to meet shortfalls. To help overcome such constraints and after informal consultations with a number of Governments, two proposals are presented to the Committee in document A/A A/AC.96/541. One recommends a special $5 million Emergency Fund and the other suggests an increase of the Programme Reserve from 10 to 20 per cent. While these proposals would give added flexibility to the Office in dealing with the problem of shortfalls in years when there is little or no increase in the over-all financial requirements, they do not solve problems arising from very substantial increases such as are required in 1978.

My problem is both simple and complex: how to finance increases in assistance needs through a corresponding increase in contributions. This can only be solved through the announcement by Governments of adequate funds at the annual Pledging Conference.

In the event that the full financing of programmes still remains a cause for serious concern, it may be necessary, in the early part of next year, to convene an informal meeting of this Committee in order for me to provide an updated report.

Mr. Chairman, even though the international community is saturated with appeals for funds, I have taken the liberty of emphasizing the financial difficulties because I am deeply concerned about the need for a substantial increase in contributions. In doing so, I am reminded of what the first High Commissioner, van Heuven Goedhart, once said and which certainly remains true today;

"The refugee problem has nothing to do with charity. It is not the problem of people to be pitied: far more of people to be admired. It is the problem of people, who, somewhere, somehow, sometime, had the courage to give up the feeling of belonging which they possessed, rather than abandon the human freedom which they wanted more highly."