February 11, 2002
Statement by Gennady Gatilov, Russia's First Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at the Meeting of the Security Council Meeting on the Question of Refugees on February 7, 2002
There is no need to speak of the importance of the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the context of a peaceful revival of war and conflict affected countries and regions. It is obvious. Today the attention of the world community is riveted to the hot spots where the tasks of a mass return of refugees and international assistance to internally displaced persons are most acute. Mr. Lubbers has given a thorough account of the measures being taken by the UNHCR to accomplish these tasks: from the Balkans to East Timor.
First of all, I would like to touch on the situation in Africa, where these problems are most acute. They are complicated by the strong ethnic component of African conflicts, primarily in the Great Lakes region. In this case the very fact of the presence of a significant number of refugees of a particular ethnic group in the territory of a neighboring state, as in the case of the Rwandan Hutus in the DR Congo, is often a factor aggravating regional tensions. Neither can the activities of armed groups be ignore that moving together with refugees complicate the task of defending the latter.
Despite the fact that in considering virtually any conflict the SC invariably pays due attention to refugee-related problems, as well as support of the efforts being taken by the UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations, the situation continues to be extremely tense - all in all, millions of people still remain torn away from their native homes and deprived of elementary means of subsistence.
Russia strongly condemns the practice of purposive forcible population movement in the course of conflicts, as was practiced, for example, by UNITA in Angola. Such actions, tearing away people from their means of production, for the most part - land - aggravate the already extremely difficult socioeconomic problems of the countries involved.
We are seriously concerned by the increased frequency of attacks and the use of force against international humanitarian personnel recently. There can be no justification for such illegal actions, and those guilty of them should suffer well-deserved punishment.
An important prerequisite for ensuring the security of humanitarian organizations' staff is not only the presence of military contingents sent by the SC for their protection, but also the strict observance of the principle of impartiality in rendering humanitarian aid. Humanitarian assistance may not be used as an instrument of political influence on any of the parties to a conflict. Otherwise it threatens to turn from an effective means of stabilizing the situation and supporting the process of political settlement into a factor of fomenting the conflict, as was the case in Somalia and Rwanda in its time.
Today urgent humanitarian actions are necessary to solve the problem of refugees in and around Afghanistan. The situation continues to be very complicated: tens of thousands of Afghans are starving. A number of regions are on the verge of dying out, diseases are raging. Russia was among the first to extend a helping hand to the Afghan people. Thus, over the last two months approximately 10,000 tons of humanitarian cargo has already come in to Afghanistan from our country, a mobile hospital, gratuitously handed over to the Afghan side, has been promptly deployed and traffic has been resumed along the Solang tunnel. At the present time Russian agencies and organizations are finishing working up questions that relate to the second phase of Russian assistance to Afghanistan, more impressive and many-sided.
We are calling on the parties of origin of refugees and the countries giving them shelter to create conditions conducive to voluntary repatriation. At the same time local integration and settlement in third countries in a number of cases are one of possible schemes for resolving the situation of refugees who by virtue of the existing conditions cannot return home.
We believe that the dominant function of the Security Council should consist of creating a political framework for preventing, reducing the acuteness of, and finally resolving "refugee problems." In the practical solution of this task cooperation with the UNHCR is important, whose activities should invariably bear a "purely nonpolitical, humanitarian and social character."
Countering the threat of terrorism calls for a comprehensive, many-faceted and long-term strategy on the part of the community of nations. UN Security Council Resolution 1373 prescribes taking, before granting refugee status, proper measures to ascertain that the asylum seekers did not plan terrorist acts, did not aid and abet them and did not participate in their commission. It is obvious that refusing terrorists asylum and protection must bear a universal character, without any double standards. We believe that from this vantage point it is necessary to look afresh at the situation in refugee camps so as to prevent them becoming a nutritional medium and "natural resource" for terrorism.
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