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High Commissioner's remarks at the Ministerial Meeting to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, Brasilia, 2 December 2014

Speeches and statements

High Commissioner's remarks at the Ministerial Meeting to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, Brasilia, 2 December 2014

2 December 2014


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to be here in Brasilia, celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration. The Cartagena Declaration is not a simple adaptation of international legislation on refugees in Latin America. It is a fundamental milestone for protection frameworks on a global scale, because it goes beyond, it is more advanced and more progressive than the general regime defined by the 1951 Convention.

I also want to thank the Brazilian leadership, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for the vision they have given to this process so that the Brazil Declaration would become a new pact. Furthermore, I would like to thank every State in Latin America and the Caribbean, who we gladly see joining us in this common journey in the spirit of cooperation and commitment.

I would like to mark a profound recognition of the work of our main experts, Ambassador Emeritus Rosario Green, His Excellency the Judge of the International Court of Justice, Professor Antônio Cançado Trindade, and the honourable Judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Mr. Diego Garcia Sayán. At the same time, I would like to thank the more than 150 civil society organizations, and the Refugee Norwegian Council, for their extraordinary contribution to the success of our work and the institutional advances that the Brazil Plan of Action and Declaration represent.

When it comes to the protection of refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons, Latin America is an example; an example of solidarity in a world that urgently needs this example. As Brazil's Minister of Foreign Affairs has said, we live in a situation in which more than 50 million people have been displaced by conflict, internally or externally, with an exponential increase: in 2011 we had 14,000 people displaced every day in the world due to violence; in 2012, 23,000 a day, and in 2013 32,000 people displaced every day.

We are watching an explosion of humanitarian needs; we do not have, however, the capacity to respond to this at the international level. The Latin American example of a peaceful and protective continent is more necessary than ever. I sincerely hope that the peace negotiations in Colombia will meet with success in the near future, since it represents today the only conflict situation on the continent.

Every Portuguese remembers the many of our citizens who came to Brazil, as do the many Spanish who sought protection in Latin America, during the dictatorships of Salazar and Franco. We have a debt of gratitude with Latin America, and we shall never forget that debt. I also would like to state that the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action, within the Cartagena+30 process, represents a confirmation of four essential values: quality, innovation, openness and generosity.

First, quality. The best asylum laws in the world are Latin American, including the one here in Brazil. Secondly, innovation. In Cartagena+20, with the Mexico Plan of Action, the Borders of Solidary, Cities of Solidary and solidary resettlement, created extremely important and innovative measures for the protection of refugees and internally displaced. Furthermore, generosity, progressively introducing new roles and functions. The way countries addressed migratory movements with the same perspective of solidarity, in certain cases helped to find solutions to protection problems. And finally, openness. In Cartagena+10, there was openness to broaden the definition to include the issue of internally displaced persons, and today, in Brasilia, there is the openness to understand a new phenomenon, non-state actors of persecution such as criminal organized groups. The Northern Triangle in Central America is an example, where this phenomenon creates significant movements, involving many unaccompanied young people and children; an issue that demands an effective protection response. Latin American countries have always shown openness to explore new possibilities to respond to new protection challenges. This is an attitude that must be complimented and strongly encouraged at a global level.

Finally, a word on statelessness. This is possibly the most forgotten aspect of the international human rights agenda. When I am talking with friends and ask them whether they know what statelessness means, many people do not even know that there are over 10 million people in the world who do not have a country to call their own. And to those who ask me what is a stateless person, I usually answer with an exercise of imagination. I ask them to close their eyes and imagine themselves to wake up without an identity card, without a credit card, without driver's license or any other document. To imagine that when they go to school, their kids are not accepted, when they go to the hospital, they cannot receive any treatment, that when the day comes and they die, their families will not be able to have a death certificate, to prove that the person does not exist anymore. There are 10 million people in the world that legally do not exist, and this is absurd in the 21st century. Also here, the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action take on our global commitment of eradicating statelessness in the next 10 years. I very much hope that Latin America will be the first continent in the world to completely eradicate statelessness.

Finally, I would like to wish you all that this conference is successful and, above all, that our commitment with the world in the protection of refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons may be ever stronger in Latin America. This region is a lesson for all those, as the Ambassador said, who within their borders use populist and xenophobic discourse that creates environments hostile to foreigners, and who do not understand that diversity is wealth and that migration is not a part of humanity's problems, but a part of humanity's solutions.

Thank you very much.