Allow me, at the outset, to thank the High Commissioner for Refugees Mrs. Ogata for her comprehensive statement. Cyprus, itself one of the beneficiaries from the humanitarian assistance of the Office of the UNHCR, expresses its profound appreciation and full support to the High Commissioner and her staff for their untiring efforts and determination.
As my delegation associates fully with the statement of the European Union on this agenda item, I will limit myself to a few additional remarks of concern to my Government.
Although there has been a small decrease in the number of refugees compared to previous years, the international situation does not allow much optimism: Almost 23 million refugees and displaced persons are still of concern to the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. Moreover a number of conflict situations remain areas of potential flows of refugees and displaced persons.
The numerous problems posed by humanitarian crises stress once again the need for comprehensive approaches to the complex problems of displacement. In this context, we believe that emphasis should be given
* to refugee protection, which is fundamental to any comprehensive approach;
* to promotion of effective responses to human rights problems, which generate or threaten to generate flows of refugees and displaced persons or impede voluntary return;
* to voluntary repatriation of displaced persons in their country of origin.
In addressing these issues, my delegation shares the view, that it is also necessary to have a closer cooperation among the Governments concerned as well as improved coordination of the Office of the UNHCR with other humanitarian, human rights and development organizations.
Despite the undeniable achievements of the recent past, that allowed to more than one million refugees to return to their country of origin in 1996, we believe that a better understanding of the root causes of the mass exodus should allow us to prevent the continuous uprooting of millions of people. For that reason, the international community must intensify its efforts to identify the occurrences that lead to new waves of refugees.
While we must create conditions making it possible to refugees and displaced persons to rebuild their lives elsewhere, the right to return to their homes and properties is inalienable and cannot be therefore taken away from them. In this regard, allow me to render this august body that one of the tragic components of the Cyprus problem is that of the internally displaced. In 1974 more than 200,000 Cypriots became refugees in their own homeland as a result of the Turkish invasion and continued occupation of the northern part of Cyprus.
A number of findings and resolutions adopted by international bodies such as the Security Council of the United Nations, the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, call for the return of the refugees back to their homes and properties under conditions of safety. Despite these repeated calls not a single refugee has been allowed by the occupation forces to return to his home since the Turkish invasion in 1974.
Most recently, the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey accountable for violation of human rights in the Turkish occupied areas of the Republic of Cyprus. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg delivered on 18 December 1996 its judgment on a complaint by a Greek-Cypriot refugee – owner of immovable property in the occupied part of Cyprus – for continuing violation by Turkey of her right to property. The Court decided that the denial of access to the applicant’s property and consequent loss of control thereof is imputable to Turkey – since her army exercises effective overall control over that part of the island – and that there has been a violation of the applicant’s right to property. The Court concluded in its final and legally binding judgment, that the applicant remained the legal owner of her land in the northern part of Cyprus.
Before concluding let me stress once again the humanitarian aspect of the problem of displacement, that 23 million people face today, an aspect that makes the success of the Office of the UNHCR more imperative.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.