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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Fiftieth Anniversary.

Statement by H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Iceland

Geneva, 13 December 2001


Madam Chairperson
Mr High Commissioner
Excellencies
Ladies and gentlemen


A fiftieth birthday is usually an occasion for celebration. Although the world has indeed changed and improved in many ways, the problem of displacements and refugees still prevails.

This anniversary meeting provides us with an excellent opportunity to assess the existing refugee situation, reaffirm our commitment and charter the future course of action.

The fact that some 12 million persons are refugees in the world today and that further 20 to 25 million are internally displaced within their own countries constitutes a serious threat to peace and stability in various parts of the world. An estimated 40 - 50 million persons worldwide have been uprooted from their homes. Millions of persons have moved to escape danger and persecution.

Let us hope that there is a growing awareness within the international community of the magnitude of the crisis of refugees and internally displaced persons and the consequent will to correct this unfortunate situation. The need to address the root causes of violence and human right abuses resulting in recurrent refugee problems have never been more urgent in this age of globalisation.

The plight of refugees and internally displaced persons should be of major concern to us all gathered here today to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The 1951 Refugee Convention has proved to be an indispensable vehicle in addressing the problems of the millions left homeless because of wars and persecution. The UNHCR has developed from a small agency into a strong and effective organisation which along with the 1951 Refugee Convention gives us the legal basis upon which we protect and provide refugees with the international protection and assistance they are entitled to. Our primary responsibility is to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of refugees, irrespective of their race, religion, political opinion or gender.

My government expresses its full commitment to the spirit and provisions of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, together with its 1967 Protocol, and considers it as a fundamental and vital international legal instrument which continues to provide the basis for international protection of asylum seekers and refugees.

We are also fully committed to the Global Consultations process, initiated at the end of 2000, with a view to increasing the effectiveness of the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as emphasising and reinforcing the international community}s commitment to meet the protection needs of refugees today.

Furthermore we urge those states which are not yet parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol to consider acceding to it as soon as possible. Although the Refugee Convention is now fifty years old and may need some updating and improvement, there is at present no realistic alternative to the current international system of asylum based on the 1951 Convention and its Protocol. We must also bear in mind that states' obligations regarding the protection of refugees goes beyond the wording of the Convention itself.

We should at all times be aware of the complex relationship between the physical quality of life in all its aspects on one hand and human rights on the other. The protection of refugees is part of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as a whole. Refugeeism is a human rights issue and is often caused by human rights violations in crisis situations of varying degree. To protect the vulnerable we must reassert the centrality of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Conditions should be created that are conducive to the protection of human rights and the peaceful resolution of disputes. The reintegration of returning refugees in their country of origin should as well be both stressed and strived at thereby averting the recurrence of refugee situations with the aim of finding durable solutions. This is more imperative than ever before.

The global crisis of refugees and internal displacement will undoubtedly and regrettably continue to increase in the future. It is though undeniable that the international community has made great progress in responding to these issues since we adopted the 1951 Refugee Conventon and its 1967 Protocol. Our current response, however, is far from adequate and much needs still to be done to ensure an effective system of protection and assistance to alleviate the plight of the millions of asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons scattered around the world today.

Finally Madam chairperson, I would like to commend the work of the UNHCR and its noble mission under the able leadership of High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers in the challenging tasks that lie ahead.


Thank you.

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