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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Sixth Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jeddah 1-2 December 1992

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Sixth Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jeddah 1-2 December 1992

2 December 1992

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

I am very grateful to the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the opportunity they have given me to address this Extraordinary Session of the Foreign Ministers Conference.

Fierce tensions and conflicts around the world are leading to new and tragic flows of refugees. But rarely have the violations of human rights and humanitarian law, the violence and destruction reached the levels we are currently witnessing in the former Yugoslavia.

While the international community continues its efforts to help to resolve the political crisis in the former Yugoslavia, my Office, is trying with more than 300 dedicated staff members on the ground, and together with other humanitarian organizations, to protect and bring relief to all those who suffer from the dramatic consequences of war and persecution. In the republics of former Yugoslavia, there are more than 3 million refugees, displaced persons and people trapped in besieged cities and regions.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina alone, 1.7 million persons are in need of humanitarian assistance. The numbers are rising daily in a horrendous spiral. All populations are affected, but one group, the Moslems, are clearly paying the highest price.

In the midst of war, conflict and human rights violations, UNHCR is leading the international relief effort. My priority goals are to extend assistance for survival, and to assure admission to safety of those who are compelled to flee from war and persecution. These efforts have gained added urgency with the onset of winter. The strategy of my Office remains to assist the victims as close as possible to their homes, either in Bosnia and Herzegovina itself, or in the neighbouring countries. I have constantly urged the world community to help all countries of the region, in a spirit of international burden-sharing, as their burden is, indeed, great. In addition to the 1.7 million persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina mentioned above, Croatia hosts some 700,000 refugees and displaced people while Serbia has received some 450,000 refugees.

Much of the international assistance is strictly humanitarian and is directed to all those who are in need, regardless of ethnic or religious belonging. Nothing could be more unfair than to say we are not helping the innocent victims of the Moslem faith. Because the international assistance is channelled through UNHCR as lead agency, and through our partners. A document is being distributed to you with data on the volume and characteristics of such assistance. I am deeply grateful for the support received from the donor community, the various European countries, the United States, Japan and others. But more needs to be done. I would like today to make a strong and urgent appeal to member states of the OIC to join us in our multilateral efforts. The needs are enormous as are the difficulties, and could only be met through a comprehensive and integrated multilateral effort. On our (revised) budget of USD 388 million for urgently needed food, medical and shelter items until 31 March 1993, we are still facing a budget shortfall of some USD 100 million.

UNHCR is closely linked with the International Conference for the Former Yugoslavia led by Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen in which I serve as chairperson of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group. In the context of this Working Group, my Special Envoy on the ground and I are in regular contact with the leaders of the Bosnian parties, firstly to remind them of their commitments under the Programme of action on Humanitarian Issues agreed upon in London in August. They include a halt to "ethnic cleansing" and the unconditional release of all detainees. Secondly, we discuss the priorities of assistance and the best ways to reach all populations in need. All parties have given repeated assurances for the safety of the airlift to Sarajevo, of our network of land corridors and road convoys, and for the transit of released detainees to Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro.

With the recent arrival of UNPROFOR's transport battalion, our trucking capacity has reached 317 trucks with a capacity of 3,553. This is an improvement, for we are distributing aid to refugees throughout the former Yugoslavia. The daily quantity required in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone is 1,300 MT. We now have the capacity to deliver needed aid only if we were not hampered by conflict and political obstacles.

The odds on the ground remain enormous. The resumption after one month's suspension of the vital airlift to Sarajevo, on 3 October, was a positive development. With more than 1,700 flights and 19,000 MT of supplies, the airlift has been an important element to save the lives of the population of Sarajevo. However, security conditions for the indispensable road convoys on our land corridors to the city - and to many other areas - remain fragile.

Although the deployment of 7,000 additional UNPROFOR troops pursuant to Security Council Resolution 776 is augmenting our operational capacity, harassment and delays at check points, indiscriminate fighting and political considerations continue to be major obstacles. Only recently, a UNHCR convoy was deliberately targeted on the Mostar road, which is our priority corridor to Sarajevo and to the hundreds of thousands of displaced and destitute people in central-Bosnia. Cities such as Tuzla and Gorazde are finally being reached, but still not frequently and still with great difficulty. My convoys to the government-held enclave of Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia were on several occasions prevented from proceeding by angry, local people of the Serbian side but finally got through last Saturday. Strictly neutral humanitarian access should not be hampered by political manipulation, military objectives and political manipulation.

Most UNPROFOR troops have now arrived, but some have been prevented from obtaining full access to their area of deployment. Nevertheless, if we are to look for possible sanctuaries for the refugees and the displaced, they will have to be linked with the presence and capacity of UNPROFOR.

Meanwhile, displacement continues. Ethnic cleansing goes on, resulting daily in groups of people fleeing across mine fields and frontlines in their desperate search for safety in Central-Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have repeatedly condemned this abhorrent practice and have emphasized the right of people to stay, in conditions of full security, as well as stressed the responsibility of everyone to ensure respect for this right.

I can state with conviction, however, that horrifying as the practice of ethnic cleansing may be, international presence on the ground has made a difference. Without its presence, the situation would have been much worse. At the same time, I must point out that since uprooting people is one of the aims of this conflict, international efforts alone cannot contain the problem.

New displacement is also occurring as a result of the military offensive currently under way in central-Bosnia. The fall of the town of Jajce, for example, led to the flight of an additional 40,000 people. Together with UNHCR, and UNPROFOR troops, the authorities in Central-Bosnia and in the region of Herzegovina are trying their best to provide shelter, but existing accommodation facilities are increasingly stretched to the limit. Furthermore, many refugees have difficulties in being admitted to Croatia, which is already carrying a tremendous refugee burden.

I sincerely hope that the day will come when refugees and displaced persons on all sides will be able to return to their homes. In the case of Croatia and the United Nations Protected Areas, UNHCR has been given a mandate by the Security Council Resolution 752 to arrange voluntary returns and we shall try to devise the means to allow the return of the displaced persons.

Finally, let me bring to your attention the pressing issue of the release of detainees on all sides in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thus far, nearly 3,000 persons have been released of the total of 10,273 detainees registered by the ICRC until 31 October. Most, but not all of these are persons belonging to the Muslim faith. At the International Conference all parties continue to be reminded of their commitment to proceed unconditionally with the release of all detainees. In practice, further releases are increasingly made contingent upon reciprocity.

A further obstacle has been the lack of sufficient offers of temporary refuge abroad since UNHCR's appeal of 29 September. Many States have made encouraging offers in recent weeks. Among the members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference are Turkey and Malaysia. I am deeply grateful to the governments of these countries. But there is still a serious immediate shortfall of 2,300 places. This figure should probably be tripled to include their family members.

Mr. Chairman, at the Ministerial Meeting on Humanitarian Aid to the Victims of the Conflict in former Yugoslavia which I convened on 29 July, UNHCR launched a comprehensive humanitarian response to the crisis in the former Yugoslavia. It has been followed by regular meetings to mobilize international support. I have convened another high level Meeting on 4 December, to review the humanitarian situation, in all its aspects. We will continue to do whatever we can to bring relief to the victims on all sides, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. But let there be no illusions. Humanitarianism alone cannot prevent massive suffering and deaths. As I said on 13 November to the Security Council in New York, to avoid the worst scenarios of war and winter, we need an urgent end to all hostilities. And we also need the concentrated support of the international community. I hope that your Conference will contribute to the achievement of these objectives. In this context I wish to invite the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to appoint a focal point to coordinate with UNHCR led multilateral relief efforts.

I wish to thank the OIC for convening this Extraordinary Meeting on the terrible tragedy the Bosnian people are facing and I reiterate my call on all its members to support UNHCR's efforts urgently and generously. I make this call in the spirit of the excellent cooperation that my Office is enjoying with the OIC and its member states, as well as in the spirit of the traditional Islamic humanitarian values and principles which your Organisation represents.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.