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Statement by Ms. Nathalie Karsenty, Representative in Panama, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 124th IPU Assembly - Assembly Debate

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Statement by Ms. Nathalie Karsenty, Representative in Panama, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 124th IPU Assembly - Assembly Debate

21 April 2011

I am honoured to take the floor on behalf of the UN Refugee Agency - UNHCR - in this debate focusing on Parliamentary accountability: Living up to people's expectations. Owing to the nature of its work, UNHCR would like to highlight a few dimensions of accountability relating to citizens and even non-citizens.

Nationality is a legal bond between a person and a State. It not only provides an individual with a sense of identity, but more importantly enables the exercise of a wide range of rights, including the right to vote. Every person has the right to a nationality. But there are some 12 million people that no State considers to be its citizen. They are thus stateless. The lack of any nationality is devastating to the lives of the individuals concerned. They are deprived of even the most basic rights accorded to citizens. They are largely invisible and forgotten.

Today there are some 40 million people who have been forcibly uprooted from their homes. They include over 14 million refugees and 24 million internally displaced persons. In their case, the essential link with national authorities and institutions has been seriously affected or even broken. Many of you in this room know what it is to be a refugee, and have tasted the bitter experience of exile abroad.

UNHCR has partnered with the IPU for well over a decade, drawing attention to the legal and practical issues surrounding refugees, internally displaced persons and stateless people. Having just marked UNHCR's 60th anniversary in 2010, we are this year marking the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Sadly, the momentous events that have marked the first months of this year confirm that the 20th Century norms are needed more than ever to address 21st Century realities.

In discussing the notion of accountability, we urge you not to forget refugees, internally displaced persons and stateless people.

For refugees that your countries are hosting, parliamentarians are crucial:

  • In adopting national legislation on asylum that is consistent with international and, in some cases, regional standards.
  • You can also urge your Governments not to view refugees solely as a burden, but also to enable them to realize their individual potential and make valuable contributions to the countries generously hosting them.

For your citizens who are refugees abroad, parliamentarians are also key players in creating the environment enabling them to return home in safety and dignity, and to resume their lives and livelihoods, reacquire their land and property, and enjoy civil and political rights as full citizens, without discrimination.

Internally displaced persons are citizens, and should continue to enjoy their rights as such. But it has proved necessary to devise Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, to recall that displacement must not be synonymous with mistreatment and neglect. We welcome the African Union's 2009 Kampala Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. Here again African parliamentarians are key in promoting signature, ratification and implementation of this landmark convention.

Statelessness can result from the break-up of States and arbitrary deprivation of citizenship for minorities, nomadic or indigenous populations. Statelessness also occurs when gender discrimination in nationality laws does not allow women to pass their nationality to their children or from lack of birth registration. Parliamentarians are key to ensuring that nationality legislation prevents and reduces statelessness. As part of UNHCR's campaign to promote the statelessness conventions, we congratulate the government of Panama for having taken steps to formalize its accession to both international instruments this year.

We invite you to learn more about these various dimensions of accountability by joining us in an open session of the Committee to Promote Respect for International Humanitarian Law at 2:30 on Monday afternoon, 18 April.

Thank you.