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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Geneva, 20 July 1995

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Geneva, 20 July 1995

20 July 1995

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

I am pleased to have this opportunity to present the annual report of my Office and to share with you some of our current concerns. The past year has been a challenging one during which UNHCR has faced, on the one hand, major new crises and, on the other, found new opportunities to resolve refugee problems.

During the past year we grappled with the flight of over 2 million Rwandese nationals into neighbouring countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa, as a result of genocide and inter-ethnic violence.

But, we have also helped over 2 million refugees to return home last year. Strikingly, Mr. President, it has not only been tragedy but also hope which has borne an African name in 1994: Mozambique. Over 1.6 million Mozambican refugees have returned home, bringing to an end one of Africa's largest and longest standing refugee crises.

From Rwanda to West Africa, from Yugoslavia to the Caucasus, from Central Asia to the Caribbean, the problem of mass displacement has become a disturbing characteristic of the current era. In the course of the year, the number of people of concern to my Office rose to over 27 million. They included more than 14 million refugees, 5.4 million internally displaced persons and 3.5 million people affected by war, the latter predominantly in former Yugoslavia. More positively, they also included some 4 million returning refugees requiring help to reintegrate in their countries of origin.

In this context of crisis and hope, of massive displacement and large-scale return, my Office has pursued a three-pronged strategy of prevention, preparedness and solutions. It has sought to assure a high level of emergency preparedness. It has promoted concerted efforts to achieve durable solutions, especially through voluntary repatriation; and it has aimed to provide assistance and protection in such a way as to avert, where possible, new refugee flows. In so doing, we have collaborated with political, peacekeeping, human rights and development efforts of the United Nations. We have also worked hand in hand with other intergovernmental and regional bodies and with a wide range of non-governmental organizations who form the backbone of humanitarian operations on the ground.

Turning first to emergency response. We have continued our efforts to strengthen our capacity in order to play our leading role in the international response to refugee emergencies. At the same time, we have tried to ensure the effectiveness of our interventions and the durability of results by building and structuring our partnerships with other United Nations agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF, WFP and UNFPA and by coordinating our activities in complex emergency situations with the Department of Humanitarian Affairs.

In many areas of the world my Office has also worked closely with United Nations peace-keeping or peacemaking initiatives. In Angola, Liberia, the Great Lakes region, the Horn of Africa, Guatemala, the Caucasus or Central Asia, UNHCR has worked either within the framework of or in tandem with United Nations' efforts at conflict resolution.

As lead agency for the provision of humanitarian assistance in the former Yugoslavia, my Office, in cooperation with UNPROFOR, has brought life-saving assistance to almost 2.7 million displaced persons and other victims of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I should underline that since May this year our ability to operate has been severely restricted by the increasingly precarious conditions and the deliberate blocking of humanitarian access. On Monday I visited Tuzla and saw for myself the painful humanitarian consequences of the recent, appalling events in Srebrenica. The future of the humanitarian operation remains uncertain, although the needs are unabated.

In the face of escalating emergency needs, my Office has had to devise imaginative and innovative means of response, as occurred with the "service package" concept for Rwandese refugees in Zaire. We realised at the onset of the emergency last July that our own staff resources were heavily committed, and appealed to donor Governments to intervene directly to provide self-contained services in critical assistance sectors. It led to the deployment of resources largely from donor military and civil defense establishments. The positive impact of these so-called "service packages" has encouraged my Office enter into consultation with Governments and the Department of Humanitarian Affairs on how and under what circumstances this mechanism can best be used.

The events in Rwanda have also shown, Mr. President, that emergency response is not only, nor even primarily about the provision of relief. It is, above all, about protecting the rights of refugees and other victims. My Office has tried to ensure the security and human rights of refugees, including their right freely to decide to return home. In response to security problems in Rwandese refugee camps in Zaire and Tanzania, and following close consultations with the Secretary-General, we have taken steps to improve law and order and prevent intimidation and violence against refugees. In Zaire, for instance, we have supported the deployment of Zairian forces, monitored by an international Security Liaison Group. In Tanzania, we have extended limited assistance to strengthen the capacity of the police.

In parallel with our efforts to respond to emergencies, Mr. President, we have continued our search for solutions, the second prong of our strategy. Over 2 million refugees returned to their countries of origin in 1994, most notably to Mozambique, Afghanistan and Myanmar. Return movements have continued in 1995, with welcome prospects also opening up for the return of 300,000 refugees to Angola.

Solutions have continued to be consolidated in several other regions. The process launched by the International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA) came formally to a close in June 1994 and a framework was agreed for the post-CIREFCA period. Meanwhile, the Steering Committee of the International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees moved the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) into its final phase. My Office attaches great importance to the timely conclusion of the CPA, and I hope that with the support of all parties concerned we can overcome the remaining problems in the coming months.

Closer collaboration with regional organizations is essential in the search for solutions to the problems of refugees and displaced persons. A Regional Conference was jointly convened by my Office and the Organization of African Unity in Bujumbura in February this year to ensure a concerted approach to the crisis in the Great Lakes region. However, since March this year, there has been no significant organized repatriation of Rwandese refugees. As I mentioned during my recent visit to Addis Ababa to attend the Organization of African Unity Summit, a humanitarian solution to the refugee problem is essential both for the welfare of the individuals concerned as well as for peace and stability in the region.

We have also enhanced our working relationships with other regional bodies, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). We are cooperating closely with the OSCE in the Transcaucasus, Tajikistan and in Chechnya in the Russian Federation.

In its efforts to promote and consolidate solutions, my Office continues to attach great importance not only to conflict resolution initiatives, but also to a better dovetailing of relief, rehabilitation and development. While there can be no stable resolution of refugee problems without peace, there can be no sustainable solutions without development.

My Office has continued to reinforce its community-based approach to reintegration assistance through quick impact projects which aim to meet the basic human needs of returning refugees and promote their self-sufficiency. We have also held further discussions with other departments and agencies, notably DHA and UNDP, on how institutional gaps can be bridged, not least through joint planning and priority setting. In addition, we have sought to strengthen our relationship with the financial institutions, notably the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

Our efforts to support reconciliation and rehabilitation in post-conflict societies have been evident in Mozambique where our strategy for the reintegration of the 1.6 million returnees aims at establishing linkages to longer-term development programmes.

The third focus of our efforts, Mr. President, involves the prevention of refugee crises. Recognizing that without effective preventive action, problems of human displacement will continue to spread, my Office has strengthened its institution-building and training activities as well as mass information programmes in various parts of the world.

Faced with the scale of actual and potential problems of displacement in the former Soviet Union, we have been engaged, with IOM, in a preparatory process for a conference designed to address current problems and prevent their proliferation. I hope that the conference, which is tentatively scheduled for early next year, will elaborate a programme of action that will include measures to prevent unnecessary movements and address the consequences of past, present and future displacements in the CIS and relevant neighbouring states.

As part of the strategy to prevent, or at least mitigate, refugee problems, my Office has, at the request of the Secretary-General, continued or expanded its involvement with the internally displaced. It has sought to protect and assist them and help them to return home in safety. Besides its programme of humanitarian assistance for over 1.5 million internally displaced persons in the former Yugoslavia, we have, for example, undertaken activities for substantial numbers of internally displaced in Angola, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Afghanistan, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Frequently, we have carried out these activities in cooperation with other concerned United Nations bodies in the framework of comprehensive approaches to displacement and conflict resolution.

In pursuing its preventive and solution-oriented activities, my Office has also sought to strengthen its relationship with human rights bodies and mechanisms and to establish active collaboration with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, especially at the level of field operations. Contacts with human rights working groups, rapporteurs, experts and monitors are an important part our efforts to link human rights concerns with the protection of refugees and returnees.

Mr. President,

In concluding the presentation of my annual report, let me say that the problem of forced displacement poses a major challenge, not only to my Office, but also to the United Nations system and the international community as a whole. Beyond the humanitarian challenge of responding to emergencies and seeking solutions lies the broader political, social and economic challenges of peace, development and human rights. Urgent action is required in many of these fields, which are of direct relevance to ECOSOC. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with you in trying to ensure that those challenges are met.

Thank you, Mr. President.