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Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 60th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, 16 March 2004

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 60th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, 16 March 2004

16 March 2004

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address the Commission on Human Rights.

Let me begin by condemning the terrorist attack in Spain last week that led to the loss of so many innocent lives. My heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to all the people of Spain.

I would like to pay tribute once again to the former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello - another victim of barbaric terrorism. As you know, Sergio was a close friend of UNHCR's. He devoted twenty five years of his life to the refugee cause.

I greatly welcome the recent appointment by the Secretary - General of Louise Arbour as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I know Louise well from the time when she was based in The Hague. In selecting someone of such high calibre, the United Nations and the international community as a whole has shown how much importance it attaches to this post.

Allow me to also congratulate Bertie Ramcharan on the excellent job he has done in managing the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights during a difficult period. I would like to express my personal gratitude to him for helping to maintain the close working relationship between our two Offices.

Mr. Chairman,

When we think of individual rights and State obligations, we often think first and foremost about the obligations of Governments towards their own citizens. But what of those people who no longer have a Government of their own to protect them and to defend their rights?

As High Commissioner for Refugees, I have a responsibility to speak out on behalf of those who are forced to flee their countries as a result of violence and persecution. My role is to help give these people a voice and to ensure that their rights are respected.

As you know, the 1951 Refugee Convention is the cornerstone of the international refugee protection regime. But while the Convention is strong in articulating the rights of refugees and the obligations of States towards them, it is weaker when it comes to the apportioning of responsibilities amongst States.

How do States share the burden? And how do they work together to provide permanent solutions for refugees?

Holding one State accountable for its actions is a lot easier than trying to hold over a hundred and ninety States collectively accountable. This is the problem that my Office faces in ensuring the effective protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems.

It was for this reason that I launched the Convention Plus initiative. In line with our Agenda for Protection, this is about strengthening and complementing the Convention through the development of multilateral special agreements aimed at enhancing burden sharing and sharpening the focus on achieving durable solutions.

The international community has a shared interest in finding durable solutions for refugees. Over the past 50 years, however, experience has shown that international cooperation has not always been as effective as it could have been. The result is that we have seen too many protracted refugee situations; too many young refugees becoming child soldiers; too many refugees becoming victims of human traffickers.

The Convention Plus initiative is based on an understanding that it is not enough to focus solely on the humanitarian dimension of refugee problems. To ensure more comprehensive, predictable and effective responses to refugee situations, the economic, social and political dimensions must also be considered. Refugees should not be excluded from development assistance, as has been the general rule until now; neither should they be excluded from national HIV/AIDS programmes. The search for durable solutions must become more systematic and must begin at the outset of each new refugee crisis. The security dimension must not be ignored; neither should the broader migration dimension be overlooked.

Mr. Chairman,

With this in mind, my Office is working to strengthen its partnerships not only with Governments but also with a number of inter - governmental and non - governmental organizations.

Working in close cooperation with UNDP, the World Bank and a range of other partners, UNHCR has developed a Framework for Durable Solutions. This consists of three elements: first, the promotion of better targeting of development assistance to countries and areas hosting large numbers of refugees over protracted periods; second, the establishment of "4Rs" programmes in post - conflict situations, aimed at ensuring an integrated approach to repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction; and third, the promotion, in those cases where local integration of refugees is a viable option, of a strategy of Development through Local Integration. These initiatives have already led to concrete projects in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Zambia.

There has been considerable progress in recent years in finding solutions for refugees. In Afghanistan we have witnessed one of the largest return movements in decades. Over the last two years, more than 2.5 million Afghans have returned to their homes and the repatriation operation continues. Parallel to this, we are looking into arrangements for temporary economic migration. Both the International Labour Organization and the International Organization for Migration support this UNHCR initiative and are helping to advance the process with the Governments of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In Africa, a number of repatriation operations are underway in countries like Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda and parts of Somalia. There are also hopeful signs that other conflicts in Africa may soon come to an end. Indeed, the resolution of conflicts in countries such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Liberia could, over the next few years, lead to the voluntary repatriation of up to 2 million refugees from several African countries and the return of several million more internally displaced persons.

Given the enormous potential in Africa for resolving long - standing conflicts, consolidating peace and putting an end to protracted refugee situations, last week UNHCR hosted a Ministerial - level Dialogue on Voluntary Repatriation and Sustainable Reintegration in Africa. The aim of this Dialogue was to encourage Governments, regional organizations and other actors, not only in Africa but throughout the world, to unite in support of this process.

As part of its focus on durable solutions, UNHCR has been investing in closer ties - both within and outside the UN family - on rule of law and justice issues. Experience has shown that the reintegration of returnees in post conflict situations is closely linked to the re - establishment and proper functioning of national protection mechanisms.

There is now a greater understanding than before of the important role of transitional justice strategies, both to deal with past violence and human rights abuses, as well as their recurrence. These include prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes and other human rights abuses, revealing the truth about past crimes, providing victims with reparations, vetting individuals, reforming abusive institutions and promoting reconciliation.

A particularly important issue for returnees is that of ensuring fair and equitable arrangements for land, housing and property restitution. My Office often has an important role to play in this area. In Iraq, for example, UNHCR has been providing advice to both the Iraqi authorities and the Coalition Provisional Authority on property restitution issues.

Another key issue for UNHCR is that of ensuring that the rights of refugees and asylum seekers are respected within the broader context of migration management. With this in mind, UNHCR helped to set up the Geneva Migration Group. This brings together the heads of a number of agencies whose responsibilities include a migration dimension, including UNHCR, the International Labour Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Organization for Migration. My Office is also cooperating closely with the newly established Global Commission on International Migration.

UNHCR has participated in a number of regional migration - related initiatives including the two Bali Regional Ministerial Conferences on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. Linked to this, my Office will shortly be organizing a workshop - together with the Government of Fiji - for countries participating in the Bali process on "Reconciling Legitimate State Interests to Control Borders with Refugee Protection".

Mr. Chairman,

In this world of sovereign States there is another group of people with no Government of their own to speak out on their behalf and to defend their rights: those who are stateless or whose citizenship is disputed.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states clearly that everyone has the right to a nationality. Yet there are millions and millions of people in the world today who are effectively stateless.

Only 55 States have so far acceded to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. Even fewer - only 27 - have acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

In 1995, UNHCR's Executive Committee and subsequently the General Assembly requested UNHCR to help promote the prevention and elimination of statelessness. As part of this effort, last year my Office sent out questionnaires to 192 countries to help build up a comprehensive picture of the problem of statelessness globally. The survey results show that while a number of positive measures have been taken by States to address problems of statelessness, these measures are not consistent and that gaps remain which continue to make it difficult to resolve some of these cases.

I would therefore like to call on the Commission to focus specific attention on the problem of statelessness and disputed citizenship.

Thank you.