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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 17 January 1995

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 17 January 1995

17 January 1995
Africa: seizing new opportunitiesAmericas and the Caribbean: consolidating solutionsAsia: maintaining momentumCentral Asia and the Transcaucasus: prevention and solutionsFormer Yugoslavia: a glimmer of hopeSecuring ResourcesBuilding capacity

Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a pleasure for me to be with you today and to have this opportunity of sharing some of the current preoccupations of my Office as we begin a new and what I hope will be a better year for the world's refugees. In accordance with well established tradition, I hope that the informal nature of this occasion will allow us a frank and open discussion. To set the scene for that exchange, allow me to begin by reviewing some of the recent challenges and opportunities confronting us and by situating them in the context of our search for solutions.

Last year, the scale and geographical spread of humanitarian crises reached proportions which have few parallels in recent history. From Rwanda to the Caribbean, from Yugoslavia to the Caucasus and Central Asia, few regions of the world were spared. We had, at times, the impression that we were mired in crisis; that perhaps there was no light at the end of the tunnel. But as we emerge from a difficult year, I am more convinced than ever that there are opportunities to be seized; that, given determination, humanitarian vision and political will, 1995 could yet be a year of solutions.

Africa: seizing new opportunities

Since April last year, my Office has been grappling with one of the most serious humanitarian challenges that has ever confronted it. The tragedy in Rwanda has left well over two million refugees, as well as hundreds of thousand of internally displaced and returnees in need of assistance in the Great Lakes region.

Needless to say, the ultimate objective of UNHCR activities in the region is the voluntary repatriation of the refugees in conditions of safety and dignity. Important steps have been taken with the signing of two tripartite agreements, one between Rwanda, Burundi and UNHCR, and the other between Rwanda, Zaire and UNHCR. My Office is assisting in the spontaneous return of refugees who were in exile for more than twenty years, as well as the voluntary repatriation of the more recent arrivals. In cooperation with UNAMIR, WFP, human rights monitors, and NGOs, UNHCR is establishing Open Relief Centres in various parts of the country to provide basic humanitarian assistance and protection to all returnees in their communities of origin.

UNHCR remains deeply concerned by the security situation in Rwandese refugee camps in the United Republic of Tanzania and in particular Zaire where law and order are absent and the interference of former leaders and militia continues to prevent the refugees from freely exercising their right to return. I have been in close contact with the Secretary-General to examine various options for tackling these security problems, which include the possible establishment of a peace-keeping operation. In this connection, UNHCR has in the past few months joined missions dispatched by DPKO or undertaken by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. However, the options envisaged did not prove feasible. Following agreement with the Secretary-General, UNHCR is now endeavouring to work out arrangements with the Government of Zaire to provide assets and expertise to re-enforce their capacity to provide security in the camps. I count on your support to carry out this urgent and important task.

Following the resolution of the OAU Summit and of the UN General Assembly, the OAU and my Office are jointly organizing a conference to take place in Bujumbura next month to deal with refugees, returnees, and displaced persons in the Great Lake region. A preparatory meeting was held in Addis Ababa last week. The conference will address ways to improve security within the camps, voluntary repatriation from neighbouring countries, the internally displaced, humanitarian assistance to the region, as well as the root causes of the regional crises. Prior to the Conference, I shall be travelling to the region to consult closely with participating Governments to ensure maximum gains from the meeting.

If solutions are to be found for the Rwanda refugee crisis, wholehearted support of the international community will be required to attain a more stable and secure environment in Rwanda. For this reason, I look forward to the UNDP Round Table being held in Geneva this week, which will provide a key opportunity for discussing the issues of rehabilitation and reconstruction. Moreover, my Office will participate in the DHA Consolidated Appeal which will be launched later this week. We are seeking some $ 280 million for our activities in 1995 and I count on donors for their continued generous support.

Mr. Chairman, elsewhere in Africa there are also opportunities to be seized and nurtured. With a new peace accord signed on 21 December 1994 in Accra, there may be renewed hope for an end to the Liberian crisis. But with half the population of the country displaced, endemic insecurity and fragmentation of power between competing military factions, a strong commitment will be required both regionally and internationally to ensure that the latest agreement (Liberia's tenth) does not endure the fate of its predecessors. Similarly, in Angola, it is hoped that the prospects opened up by the signing of the Lusaka Protocol on 20 November last year can be consolidated to prevent any relapse into conflict.

The Horn of Africa, for its part, presents a patchwork of crisis and hope. After years of long exile, 9,000 refugees have recently returned to Eritrea from the Sudan under a pilot repatriation programme. In February, UNHCR, UNDP and DHA will review progress and determine needs for the next phase which will involve the return of nearly 100,000 refugees by the end of the year. A concerted effort will be needed from the international community to help Eritrea develop the capacity to provide sustainable reintegration for the returnees.

Sadly, however, a new episode in the cycle of violence that has long characterized the Horn has erupted in North-West Somalia, setting back prospects for repatriation. Massive flight from the Hargeisa region into eastern Ethiopia of over 50,000 refugees is causing again a crisis situation. We are observing with concern the political and security consequences of the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping troops upon the continuation of humanitarian assistance in Somalia. With respect to the Horn of Africa, I warmly welcome the renewed international attention being paid to the region, notably the initiative recently launched by USAID, to address problems of food security. Over the next few months, we will be further developing our own plans for a more comprehensive approach to the needs of refugees and returnees in the region, dovetailing them with a similar UNDP initiative to address other categories of displaced or vulnerable persons.

Obviously, Mr. Chairman, Africa's success story is in Mozambique. By December 1994, 1.6 million refugees had returned home. But for those returning to a country devastated by war, that story is not yet over. The new democracy and political institutions in the country are still fragile, the economy precarious. Drought, food security and unemployment are major problems. To ensure the sustainability of our efforts, the transition from relief to development must be smooth and effective. I am encouraged that the reintegration strategy we have drawn up for the next 18 months has received endorsement from the Mozambican Government, other United Nations agencies and major donors.

As our activities become increasingly solution-oriented and we become more deeply involved in countries of origin, it is important that we define our role in the reintegration process and strengthen our relationship with the development agencies, as discussed at yesterday's meeting of the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters.

Americas and the Caribbean: consolidating solutions

Central America, Mr. Chairman, has been something of a laboratory in this respect and the lessons of the CIREFCA process, while not always easily replicable, need to be fully drawn and applied, where appropriate, to other regions.

I am pleased to say that we are continuing to scale down our activities in most of the Central American region. In December 1994, we marked the tenth anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration by holding an international colloquium in the Costa Rican capital. The San José Declaration on Refugees and Displaced Persons adopted at the colloquium marks another important milestone in the development of refugee law in the region and in the consolidation of regional cooperation to prevent and resolve problems of displacement. While reaffirming the validity of the principles laid down at Cartagena, the Declaration introduces a number of important new elements notably regarding internally displaced persons.

The search for a solution to the problems of Guatemalan refugees remains our principal operational concern in Central America. Although limited repatriation movements from Mexico have resumed, problems of access to land in Guatemala, ongoing inter-communal tensions and delays in the long-awaited conclusion of the peace accord are important factors slowing the return of the 38,000 Guatemalans still in Mexico. The United Nations Mission for Human Rights in Guatemala opened its office in November. It is hoped that the increased human rights monitoring will have an impact on the decision of refugees to repatriate. But, above all, it is of fundamental importance that the delayed peace accord be signed in the coming months.

In the Caribbean, Mr. Chairman, the return of President Aristide to Haiti in mid October 1994 created suitable conditions for the repatriation of 20,000 Haitians who had sought asylum in neighbouring countries or had benefited from safe haven in Guantánamo naval base. I would like to express my appreciation to the Government of the United States for having provided large-scale temporary protection. I hope that this exercise be brought to a fitting conclusion and that involuntary return takes place only after due examination of the claims to asylum.

Asia: maintaining momentum

In South East Asia, Mr. Chairman, progress continues to be made with respect to the repatriation of Indo-Chinese, even if the slow rate of return to Viet Nam is a cause of some concern. I attach great importance to maintaining the momentum and I look forward to the forthcoming meeting of the Steering Committee which will examine further ways to bring the CPA to a conclusion.

Elsewhere in the region, 80,000 Muslims repatriated to Rakhine State from Bangladesh in 1994, leaving some 120,000 refugees to return during 1995. In Myanmar itself, we have increased our staffing levels and have been granted unlimited access to all returnees. The main challenge is the implementation of the small-scale reintegration programme. The Myanmar authorities' recent agreement to the limited use of local and international NGOs will further improve our implementing capacity.

I am also pleased by the recent positive developments in Sri Lanka following the negotiation of a truce after 12 years of war which has cost more than 30,000 lives. Further progress toward a lasting peace, would enable my Office to accelerate voluntary repatriation from India and to intensify reintegration activities for both returnees and internally displaced persons.

It is the continuing conflict in Afghanistan, Mr. Chairman, which poses a major challenge to my Office. As a follow-up to last year's Executive Committee Conclusion on Repatriation to Afghanistan, we have developed a new approach which focuses on the prevention of displacement through assistance to local communities. While continuing to facilitate repatriation from the neighbouring Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan, we plan to start programmes in Kabul and regional centres hosting displaced populations and returnees. In November 1994, on the initiative of my Office, a United Nations Mission visited Kabul. As a result, two convoys were dispatched to bring relief to the civilian population of Kabul, the scene of one of the worst and most under-reported humanitarian crises in the world today.

In northern Afghanistan also, we organized the first convoy in nearly two years to provide relief to Tajik refugees, internally displaced Afghans and returnees. Meanwhile, there may be hope of renewed impetus toward a political solution in the renewed talks being undertaken by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.

Central Asia and the Transcaucasus: prevention and solutions

A positive development has been the repatriation of refugees to Tajikistan from Afghanistan. The majority of the remaining 18,000 Tajik refugees in Afghanistan are expected to return in the first half of 1995. But although improvements in the overall stability of conflict-affected areas of Tajikistan during 1994 led to the return of over 90 per cent of former refugees and internally displaced persons, the state of the economy and the breakdown of security remain disquieting.

The successful reintegration of former refugees and internally displaced persons during 1994 was under-pinned by the strong presence of UNHCR staff in the field, by close cooperation among other humanitarian agencies and by the deployment of peace observers. We are now in the process of disengaging and attempting to hand over to other United Nations agencies and regional organizations. Agreement has been reached with UNDP for the hand over of material assistance activities while talks are progressing with the OSCE concerning human rights monitoring and the possible deployment of OSCE staff by April 1995.

I must stress that operations such as in Tajikistan involve a crucial component of confidence building and prevention through presence. This lesson must be drawn by my Office and donors alike if we wish to ensure the success of future operations of this kind. Our involvement in other parts of Central Asia and the Transcaucasus is likely to expand. Given the scale of existing problems and the risks of additional displacement, preventive action throughout Central Asia is a fundamental objective of my Office in 1995 and we are taking steps to strengthen our overall presence in the area.

Obviously, Mr. Chairman, the eruption of open conflict in Chechnya, which has so dramatically captured the headlines of the world media in recent weeks, presents a grave danger for the stability of the entire region. The number of displaced has risen to over one quarter of a million since the hostilities began, though only few have crossed an international border into Georgia. Many are living in very harsh conditions. Following a request from the Government of the Russian Federation and consultations with the Secretary - General, we have fielded a mission to the area in collaboration with DHA and have allocated half a million dollars from our Emergency Fund to provide relief to the victims. The first airlift was dispatched into the area last Sunday. To complement the action of the ICRC which is present in Chechnya, my Office will focus on the surrounding Republics which are bearing the brunt of the population displacement.

Meanwhile, in Georgia and Abkhazia, we are unfortunately caught in a stalemate, with repatriation at a standstill since December. The number of returnees under UNHCR auspices in 1994 reached no more than 300, and we are not hopeful that the situation will improve in the near future.

These developments make it all the more urgent to develop a comprehensive strategy to address problems of refugees, returnees and other displaced persons in the CIS and neighbouring States. Consultations have continued with Governments and international organizations concerning the organization of a regional conference. An informal Steering Group met on 20 December in Geneva and a further preparatory meeting will take place this Friday. I hope that we will be able to move forward rapidly to a series of thematic regional meetings, and to the holding of the conference itself toward the end of this year. No effort must be spared to forestall further destabilization in this troubled region.

Former Yugoslavia: a glimmer of hope

Mr. Chairman, surely there can be no more dire warning of the destructive potential of ethnic tensions and violence, no better incitement to effective and timely preventive action than the intractable conflict in the former Yugoslavia. The resurgence of conflict and the stalemate of the peace process in recent months have been a source of bitter frustration. It is thus with immense relief and renewed hope that we welcome the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities which took effect on 1 January this year. Despite delays in implementation of certain of its provisions and continuing lack of access to Bihac, it is our fervent hope that the peace process can now again move forward.

Securing Resources

Mr. Chairman, the developments that I have described today, the simultaneous pursuit of emergency response, prevention and solutions, have obvious implications in terms of resources. In 1994, for the third consecutive year, the contributions we received exceeded the one billion dollar mark. Indeed, a new record was set in 1994 when, for the first time ever, over one billion dollars was contributed in cash. A very special word of thanks is due to all donors, large and small, governmental and non-governmental. While it is not normal to single out contributors, many of whom have been very generous, I would like to make particular mention of the European Commission, and particularly ECHO; last year, Brussels increased its contributions to a record level of $229 million.

Unfortunately, my Office will again faces enormous demands in 1995. Our total financial needs are over $1.2 billion and we have been obliged to ask for your approval today of an increased General Programmes target of nearly $429 million. I hope that I can continue to rely on your generosity and support in the difficult year that lies ahead.

While on the subject of donor support, I would also like to pay tribute to the unrecorded contributions of the numerous asylum countries around the world, whose efforts are so essential to the well-being of over 20 million victims of war and persecution. The presence of large numbers of refugees in countries of asylum, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and Zaire, pose a very high economic, social, political and environmental burden.

My Office is examining ways in which we can mobilize resources to help offset the environmental price paid by asylum countries that so generously open their doors.

Building capacity

Mr. Chairman, in order to compete successfully for resources, our strategy of prevention, preparedness and solutions must be underpinned by a coherent management style which maximizes efficiency, ensures accountability and minimizes costs. We must continue to develop our strategies, policies and operations to ensure that they respond to current needs. We must continue to consolidate our collaboration with other actors including NGOs by capitalizing on the gains made in the PARinAC process.

I have spoken before of my wish to strengthen the management of my Office by increasing, on the one hand, our capacity for policy formulation and implementation and, on the other, our capacity to monitor our own performance and build effectively on our experience. This is why I have created the post of Director of Policy Planning and Operations in my Executive Office and appointed Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello to it. Although he has only just taken up his new functions, he will be providing you with a preliminary briefing today. By undertaking major policy initiatives, supervising operations and encouraging research, I hope that the post will positively combine action and reflection in UNHCR. To strengthen our ability to monitor the quality of our management, I have appointed Mr. Juan Amunategui, currently the UNHCR Representative in Moscow, as Director of the recently created Inspection and Evaluation Service. Reporting directly to me, the post will allow me to keep my finger on the pulse of our major activities world-wide.

Mr. Chairman, the year ahead will not be an easy one. The persistence of inter-ethnic tensions and the continuing instability and adjustment caused by the dislocation of the old world order must lead us to expect that new crises will erupt. But I believe that there are also opportunities to be seized, that situations that may have seemed intractable only a few months ago may now, or soon, be more amenable to solutions. With the support of the Executive Committee, I am confident that we can rise to the many challenges that lie ahead. I am committed and determined that 1995 will be a year of solutions for the more than 20 million refugees the world around.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.