AT THE 42nd MEETING OF THE UNITED NATIONS
HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR)
STATEMENT BY H.E. MSGR. SILVANO MARIA TOMASI
The Delegation of the Holy See joins previous speakers in expressing its appreciation for the presentations made and the documents prepared by the UNHCR's Office. The perspective of human rights that has been adopted addressing refugees' protection is quite timely.
The issue of protection returns with greater urgency to the agenda of the UNHCR in dealing with violently uprooted people. People forcibly displaced by the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East have focused the attention of the international community both on the inadequate action being taken to protect a worldwide increasing number of refugees and of other persons entitled to protection, as well as on the growing insensitivity to asylum-seekers, whose number also has been increasing in industrialized and developing countries.
Unfortunately, on the global level, statistics show that close to 40 million people are currently uprooted by violence and persecution and are in need of different degrees of protection. A paradox emerges: as the wave of people seeking protection increases, political initiatives, proposed and implemented, move in the opposite direction of greater restriction and more control of access to safety. In the process, genuine victims from abuses of basic human rights and of specific hostility are confusedly catalogued with other people on the move.
Protection is a dynamic concept that has evolved since World War II precisely because the 1951 Convention on Refugees tied their protection to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In that spirit, as authorized by the U.N. General Assembly, the High Commissioner has exercised his protection mandate by using the concept of good offices to provide assistance to refugees outside the competence of the United Nations (UN General Assembly Resolution. A/RES/1388. 20 November 1959).
Regional instruments have been developed, such as the Convention of the Organization of African Unity (10 September 1969), which expands the definition of refugee to "every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his country of origin or nationality".
The Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (22 November 1984), which addresses the situation in Central America, recommends to include as refugees persons "threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order".
With the passing of time, the General Assembly has extended the UNHCR's protection capacities to groups who were not covered in the Convention, including Stateless people, returnees, and certain groups of internally displaced people. The UNHCR Executive Committee's Conclusions, unanimously adopted, have indicated how to deal with specific situations. In addition, other human rights Conventions cover persons in need of protection, even when their requests for asylum are rejected.
These steps that have been taken were prompted by the conviction that international protection is not a static but an action-oriented commitment aimed at finding solutions so that uprooted people may restart their life with dignity.
A similar spirit should apply also to today's challenges and problems. A hopeful initiative is the proposed Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) by the African Union, foreseen for adoption in November this year. Such a legally-binding Convention could serve as a stimulus for the protection, prevention and assistance of IDPs in other continents.
The experience of displacement in the world is further complicated by the fact that the precarious situation of all refugees is more acute in unstable regions in which most of them are found; only 5% are accepted in rich countries. For many, protracted exile turns into an added condition of suffering and some six million persons find themselves blocked in such a situation.
Today, therefore, protection remains a concept that can be further enlarged to include people with precise protection needs. There are some additional specific observations that can enter the protection discussion:
Finally, Mr Chairman, solidarity demands that the responsibility toward asylum-seekers not be simply transferred to countries in the regions of origin of the refugees, but should be shared according to the possibilities of each country or region for the sake of the common good.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.