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UNHCR publication for CIS Conference (Displacement in the CIS) - The CIS Conference on Refugees and Migrants

UNHCR publication for CIS Conference (Displacement in the CIS) - The CIS Conference on Refugees and Migrants
UNHCR publication for CIS Conference

1 May 1996
The CIS Conference process is the first attempt by the international community to grapple comprehensively with the huge, unprecedentedly complex and destabilizing movements taking place in the countries of the CIS.

The CIS Conference process has pursued three main aims:

  • To provide a reliable forum for the countries to discuss population displacement and refugee problems in a humanitarian and non-political way.
  • To analyze all population movments in the region, and clarify the categories of concern.
  • To devise a comprehensive strategy at national, regional and international levels to cope with existing and possible future forms of involuntary movement.

In December 1993, recognizing the scale of existing irregular mass movements and the potential for more, the General Assembly (Resolution 49/173) called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to convene a regional conference to address the problems of refugees, displaced persons, other forms of involuntary displacement and returnees in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and relevant neighbouring States.

Early in 1994, UNHCR began consultations with the governments of CIS countries, as well as with other interested countries and inter-governmental agencies, to prepare for the regional Conference which will be held in Geneva on 30-31 May 1996, some two years after the process began. The extraordinary range and unprecedentedly complex nature of the mass movements taking place warranted the expertise of other agencies, namely the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR). In early 1995, the three organizations, which have different but in many ways complementary mandates, formed a joint Conference Secretariat to cooperate with governments in devising a comprehensive regional approach to address the problems of mass displacement in the region.

The comprehensive strategy is laid out in an integrated document, known as the Programme of Action, which incorporates a set of principles and a range of related practical measures. The Programme of Action, which is expected to be endorsed at the 30-31 May Conference, serves as a blueprint for the future management of all forms of voluntary and involuntary mass migration in the region. It contains curative elements aimed at existing problems, which were identified during the early stages of the process, and preventive measures aimed at forestalling further problems that could all too easily lead to yet more large-scale involuntary displacement.

Before the drafting of the conference document began in earnest in January 1996, the conference process had already passed through several important preparatory stages. The main goal of the preparatory process was to devise a framework for remedial and preventive action based on universally recognized principles, yet tailored in a more focused manner to the specificity of the CIS countries.

A Meeting of Experts, held in May 1995, had agreed on a number of key issues to be addressed during the Conference process. These included:

  • Identifying the types of movement found in the region, including movements of refugees, internally displaced people, repatriants, formerly deported peoples, 'involuntarily relocating persons' (i.e., repatriants from conflict zones), illegal immigrants, stranded migrants and ecological migrants;
  • Addressing the question of conflicting and confusing terminology, and agreeing on working definitions of the types of movements identified;
  • Formulating strategies to better manage population flows in a humanitarian manner; in particular, strengthening such areas as legal protection, early warning, emergency preparedness, implementation, information sharing and dealings with minorities;
  • Harmonizing the above strategies at national, regional and international levels and encouraging a shared commitment among the participating governments and the international community;
  • Establishing an accountability structure to implement the strategies agreed upon by the Conference participants.

The first round of sub-regional meetings (which continued to identify and analyze the problems and issues) was held between July and September 1995 in Tbilisi, Ashgabat and Kyiv. Special areas of focus included emergency preparedness, early warning, management of migration, and return and reintegration assistance. A second round of sub-regional meetings was held between November 1995 and January 1996 in Tbilisi, Minsk and Ashgabat.

During this stage of the process, the participating countries identified a number of the most pressing causes and effects of mass population movements in the various regions and began formulating practical programmes on a national, regional and international level as part of the drive to find solutions to the problems. They also worked towards a regional standardization of terminology, definitions and norms dealing with refugees, internal displacement and other types of related migration. The aim was to achieve a shared understanding of the problems with a common lexicon to describe these phenomena, avoiding politically charged terminology and adhering to existing international norms.

By the time the Second Meeting of Experts took place on 23-24 January 1996, concrete proposals were being incorporated into the Conference document and a Drafting Committee was set up involving some 30 governments. Drafting and redrafting continued at a considerable pace over the next three months leading up to the Preparatory Conference, which was scheduled to take place in the Belarus capital, Minsk, from 5 to 8 May. Simultaneously, a number of consultations were taking place with interested non-governmental organizations and academics specializing in the region, with the idea of feeding their expertise into the process.

The Programme of Action prepared for adoption at the CIS Conference is based on recognition of the challenges, dangers and opportunities which the CIS region holds and represents a broad-ranging effort by the international community to help stabilize conditions, and contain or manage flows in a concerted and comprehensive manner. It has been prepared by the participating countries on the basis of equality and in the spirit of burden-sharing, but based on the understanding that ultimately the success of this major internal exercise will depend to a great extent on the political will and commitment of the CIS countries themselves.

Key elements of the Programme of Action

The Programme of Action contains two over-arching sections (the Declaration and Principles), which deal with the underlying circumstances that lie behind the conference as well as the fundamental principles governing the actions outlined in the other five sections.

Declaration: The opening declaration states that the main causes of the involuntary population movements in the region are the current social and economic insecurity of the CIS countries and the manifestation, in some countries, of violence and to some extent a disregard for human rights and humanitarian law, as well as ecological disasters. It warns that massive, unmanaged population movements may undermine political and economic transformation in the CIS countries and could have far-reaching implications for international security and stability. It further states that the comprehensive strategy worked out during the conference process is grounded in universal human rights and internationally accepted principles relevant to the management of population movements and to the prevention of further large-scale involuntary displacement. While the strategy has been formulated specifically to apply to the CIS countries themselves, the other participating states are committed to supporting the implementation of the measures contained in the Programme of Action. It calls for recognition of those problems in a spirit of international cooperation, solidarity and burden sharing.

Principles: The principles include commitments to uphold and implement important international and regional instruments relating to human rights, refugee and international humanitarian law. A number of crucial individual rights are listed, including freedom of movement and freedom to choose where you live in your own country; the rights of refugees and internally displaced people in accordance with international law; and the right to have a nationality. States agree to ensure that all people who were citizens of a previous state and are permanently residing on the territory of a successor state are granted citizenship. They also agree to adopt measures to prevent and reduce statelessness. The principles also contain a number of commitments to uphold and improve a wide range of minority rights. The rights of formerly deported peoples and repatriants to return to their ancestral home are also listed.

Institutional framework

This section of the Programme of Action stresses the need to develop institutional capacity with significant input from a wide range of international actors possessing the necessary expertise. It covers the establishment or adaptation of national policies designed to manage a variety of different types of migratory movement, including forced, involuntary and illegal movements, as well as the adoption or revision of the necessary legislation and establishment of the necessary administrative structures to make such policies workable.

Operational framework

This section deals with the underlying principles and actions necessary for providing emergency assistance or lasting solutions for various types of involuntarily displaced or relocating people. It also sets the parameters for the international assistance programmes necessary to help CIS countries with limited experience and capacity to cope with large or complex situations. Special attention is paid to the different types of operational environment necessary for each of the various affected groups covered by the conference.


This section outlines a number of measures designed to defuse potentially dangerous social or political tensions that could lead to conflict and displacement, as well as enhance monitoring and early warning of such situations or events. Measures include the establishment of, or provision of effective support for, national institutions and legislation to enhance or maintain human rights in general, and minority rights in particular. Specific measures to increase confidence within and between different social, ethnic and religious groups are also outlined. The important role NGOs can play in this regard is stressed, as well as that of various specialized international and inter-governmental agencies and mechanisms. Guidelines are also included on how to maximize the effectiveness of the various international conflict-resolution mechanisms.


Cooperation is dealt with on various different levels: between different CIS countries, and between CIS countries and other interested or affected countries on matters such as border control and trafficking as well as the whole panoply of displacement, involuntary relocation, repatriation and integration (all of which can affect or be affected by several countries at once); cooperation between CIS countries and international organizations; and between NGOs and other independent actors.

Implementation and follow-up

Responsibility for implementing the Programme of Action rests with the CIS countries. However, as and when international support is necessary, the other participating states are expected to provide it through bilateral or multilateral efforts. The three members of the Conference Secretariat also reiterate their full commitment to help the CIS countries implement the Programme of Action. During the final run-in to the Conference, UNHCR and IOM began developing a three-to-four year joint strategy to guide their activities in the region up to the year 2000, focusing on the key elements contained in the Programme of Action. Cooperation with other organizations and institutions (including international financial institutions) will be sought in appropriate areas and ways.

List of participating states (by April 1996)
CIS states
The Russian Federation
Other states
The Czech Republic
Holy See
Islamic Republic of Iran
The Netherlands
People's Republic of China
The Slovak Republic
The United Kingdom
The United States