Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2017, 15:40 GMT

Report of the International Meeting on Humanitarian Aid to Victims of the Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia

Publisher UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Publication Date 10 August 1992
Citation / Document Symbol HCR/IMFY/1992/4
Cite as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Report of the International Meeting on Humanitarian Aid to Victims of the Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia, 10 August 1992, HCR/IMFY/1992/4, available at: [accessed 12 December 2017]

10 August 1992


1.     Designated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as lead agency for humanitarian relief in the former Yugoslavia, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has been providing protection and assistance to over two and a half million refugees, displaced persons and victims of conflict in the former Yugoslavia. It has, moreover, been entrusted with the task of facilitating the voluntary return of the displaced to their homes in the United Nations Protected Areas in accordance with the United Nations peace-keeping plan and the arrangements set out in document S/23592. The activities of UNHCR, which are being undertaken jointly with UNICEF and WHO, as well as in close cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have been carried out in a context of escalating conflict and displacement which have greatly complicated both the delivery of humanitarian aid and the promotion of solutions through return.

2.     Against this background, and following consultations with the Secretary-General and a number of Governments, the High Commissioner took the initiative of convening an international meeting at the ministerial level at Geneva on 29 July 1992 to address the humanitarian aspects of the crisis in former Yugoslavia. All States Members and Observers of the United Nations were invited to attend, as were a number of international, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.


3.     The objective of the meeting was to examine ways of covering the massive humanitarian needs created by the crisis and of intensifying action in search of a lasting solution to the plight of its victims. More specifically, the meeting sought endorsement by the international community of a comprehensive package of interrelated measures aiming to: (i) enhance respect for human rights and humanitarian law; (ii) strengthen efforts to prevent or contain displacement; (iii) provide temporary refuge and material assistance for those in need of international protection; and (iv) initiate action to create conditions conducive to voluntary return.


A.         Participants

4.     The meeting was held at Geneva an 29 July 1992. It was attended by delegations of the following 87 States: Albania. Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burundi, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark. Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, France. Germany, Greece, Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Morocco, Mexico, Myanmar, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

5.     Eight delegations from the United Nations system were present, namely: thee United Nations, United Nations Office at Geneva (Centre for Human Rights), UNICEF, UNDP, UNV, WFP, FAO, WHO. In addition, the Commission of the European Communities, the Council of Europe, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration and the League of Arab States were also represented, as were the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.

B.        Election of the President

6.     His Excellency Federal Councillor Arnold Koller of Switzerland was elected by acclamation to chair the Meeting.

C.        Agenda

7.     The agenda adopted by the Meeting at its first plenary session (HCR/IMFY/1992/1) read as follows:

"1.   Opening of the meeting by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

2.     Election of the President.

3.     Organizational Matters:

(a)   Adoption of the agenda;

(b)   Organization of work.

4.     Humanitarian issues arising from the situation of refugees and displaced persons from the former Yugoslavia:

(a)   Statement by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General;

(b)   Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees;

(c)   General debate.

5.     Concluding remarks by the President.

D.        Documentation

8.     The Meeting had before it the following documents:


Provisional Agenda.


A Comprehensive Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in the former Yugoslavia.

E.         Organization of Work

9.     In connection with the organization of its work, the Meeting adopted the following recommendations put forward by the President: that

(a)   participants should confine themselves to one intervention under the general debate covering all the points that they wish to make;

(b)   statements in the general debate be limited to 10 minutes;

(c)   the Meeting be governed, mutatis mutandis, by the rules of procedure of the Executive Committee of UNHCR (A/AC.96/187/Rev.4).

F.         Credentials

10.  A number of delegations expressed their non-recognition of, or reservations concerning the claim of Yugoslavia (Serbia/Montenegro) to be the continuation of, or sole successor to the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and its right to assume that seat in international organizations. Delegations registering their positions in this respect were, in order of taking the floor: the United Kingdom (on behalf of the European Community), the United States of America, Turkey, Japan, Australia, Austria, Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Switzerland and Canada.

G.        Statement by the President of the Meeting

11.  Following his election as President of the Meeting, His Excellency Federal Councillor Arnold Koller of Switzerland highlighted the extreme violence of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and the acute suffering it entailed for the civilian population. He stressed the sense of responsibility felt by Switzerland -- the depository of the Geneva Conventions -- for the protection of victims of conflict. Expressing appreciation for the initiative taken by the High Commissioner in convening the Meeting, the President stressed its exclusively non-political and humanitarian character and urged that this be respected in the course of the debate.

H.        General Debate

1.         Statement by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

12.  Speaking as the representative of the Secretary-General, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Jan Eliasson, urged the international community to manifest solidarity with victims of the conflict, commit itself to a massive relief effort and ensure that all humanitarian aspects of the tragic situation are comprehensively addressed. He paid tribute to the efforts of international and non-governmental organizations, notably UNHCR as the United Nations lead agency, in bringing desperately needed emergency relief to those affected. He underlined, however, that the complexity and scale of the challenge demand a determined and effective response from the international community and all actors in the United Nations system. In this context, he recalled General Assembly resolution 46/182 and the guiding principles it established for dealing with complex humanitarian crises. Only by pooling expertise and resources available could a challenge of such a size and complexity be confronted. Mr. Eliasson informed the Meeting that he was immediately calling on the Geneva-based Inter-Agency Standing Committee to broaden the base of future relief efforts. In addition, he stressed the importance of security for the success of humanitarian efforts and called for cooperation and for imaginative approcahes, such as the establishment of humanitarian corridors. Finally, he called on all parties to bring an immediate halt to the violence and urged all concerned to strengthen humanitarian resolve to aid the afflicted, prevent the further spread of the tragedy and lay the foundation for confidence building, reconciliation and reconstruction.

2.         Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

13.  Recalling her recent visit to the affected Republics of the former Yugoslavia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees described the horror of the massive and escalating refugee problem. The policy of establishing "ethnically pure zones", she said, lies at the heart of the conflict, displacement seeming to be the goal not just the result of the war. Highlighting the generosity of the States and peoples who had received the refugees, Mrs. Ogata expressed deep concern that, with some 10,000 fleeing each day, time was running out. If a massive permanent refugee problem in the heart of Europe was to be avoided, immediate and forceful action was required on both political and humanitarian fronts. In convening the Meeting, she hoped to reinforce humanitarian action and contribute to an impetus for a peaceful political settlement. The High Commissioner outlined the problems that confront UNHCR in the three related areas of protection, assistance and solutions. She called for measures to ensure respect for humanitarian law and human rights as an essential part of a humanitarian strategy, for extended international humanitarian presence in areas of rising tension and for humanitarian access to all those in need. The High Commissioner also urged all States within or outside the region to express solidarity by providing temporary protection to persons fleeing former Yugoslavia. A flexible system of temporary protection would both respond to the emergency and encourage eventual return as the most desirable and feasible solution. Despite donor generosity, Mrs. Ogata pointed out that needs have overwhelmed the resources both of receiving States and of UNHCR. She particularly underlined the urgent need to prepare for the oncoming winter months. In appealing for support, she nevertheless expressed her strong preoccupation that events in former Yugoslavia not overshadow compelling humanitarian needs in other parts of the world. In the context of solutions, the High Commissioner drew attention both to the need to reaffirm the right of those concerned to return home in safety and dignity and to the massive reconstruction effort that return movements would entail.

3.         Statement by the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross

14.  Faced with the complexity of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, President Sommaruga described two key preoccupations. Firstly, he highlighted the humanitarian situation of over two million victims, the ravages caused by "ethnic cleansing", and violations of the fundamental rights of the victims of conflict by all parties involved. Secondly, he evoked the role assumed by the ICRC which, besides its traditional activities in the fields of protection, assistance and dissemination of international humanitarian law, is playing its part as neutral intermediary. The attack on an ICRC relief convoy on 18 May 1992 had not only caused bereavement to the ICRC and struck at the emblem of the Red Cross, but also demonstrated the limitations of humanitarian action when confronted with needs on such a scale and with the inaccessibility of certain regions due to the inadequacy of security guarantees. President Sommaruga stressed the ever more urgent need to "give priority to tackling the causes of the problem", while emphasizing that all humanitarian activities "contribute to addressing the roots of massive displacement". Finally, he called for the support of the international community in the provision of emergency aid and in the search for solutions for all victims of the conflict.

4.         Statements by representatives of States and organizations

15.  In the course of the general debate, the representatives of the following 46 States took the floor: United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Japan, Sweden, France, Nigeria, Germany, United States of America, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Croatia, Malta, Portugal, Canada, Slovenia, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Australia, Romania, China,. Greece, Egypt, India, Ireland, Russian Federation, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Holy See, Pakistan, Argentina, Iceland, Uruguay, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Albania, Israel, Morocco and Spain.

16.  In addition, representatives of the Commission of the European Communities, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Council of Europe, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies also made statements.

I.          Summing Up of he President

17.  in closing the Meeting, the President made the following summing up which was accepted by participants as an accurate reflection of the debate:

"Before our proceedings draw to a close, I have the challenging task of summing up the most salient points of our thought-provoking discussions and delineating the recommendations made by the delegations here represented. In view of the breadth and variety of topics covered, this summary is, of course, selective. I trust, however, that you will agree that it accurately reflects the substance of today's discussions.

Firstly, I believe that we can note with much satisfaction the sustained interest in the problem of Yugoslavia demonstrated by all Governments. We have also been pleased to note a number of new and important financial contributions.

We have examined extensively the humanitarian problems relating to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. During this review, all of the speakers have graphically drawn attention to the scale, complexity and urgency of the humanitarian needs of some 2.5 million refugees and displaced persons, as well as of other victims of the conflict. Deep concern has been repeatedly expressed at massive violations of human rights, including expulsions, and that the numbers of displaced are continuing to escalate dramatically day by day. The need for decisive humanitarian action to contain the extent of the tragedy, to address the humanitarian needs of its numerous victims and prepare the ground for peaceful solutions and reconstruction has been repeatedly underlined, as has the fact that such action is becoming ever more urgent if even greater tragedy and loss of life are to be avoided.

The statements delivered here today confirm international recognition that the situation, while it should not lead us to forget other human tragedies throughout the world, is of extremely grave humanitarian concern to the international community as a whole.

Urgent attention has been drawn to the need to take all possible measures to ensure respect for fundamental human rights and observance of humanitarian principles, including the Geneva Conventions, so as to avoid further problems of displacement and build the necessary confidence for solutions. Where flight and displacement occurs, delegations have repeatedly emphasized the need to strengthen measures to protect persons as close as safely possible to their areas of origin, and to enhance measures to provide relief to those in need. Delegations have also stressed that temporary reception be accorded to those affected until such time as they can return home in safety and dignity.

Profound preoccupation has been expressed regarding the heavy and ever growing burden imposed on asylum countries by the continued arrival of asylum-seekers, and the consequent strain on national resources available to meet the resulting needs. In consequence, we have noted the pressing need for burden-sharing with those countries overwhelmed by the massive presence of refugees and displaced persons. I am informed that a total of $150 to $200 million were announced and acknowledge, with appreciation, the financial support already provided or newly pledged by many Governments.

Tribute has been paid by many speakers to the efforts undertaken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as lead agency designated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, working in close collaboration with UNICEF, WHO and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Their staff, working under difficult conditions and often at considerable personal risk, have been the subject of special commendation.

From the statements delivered throughout today's proceedings, there appears to be wide recognition that concerted humanitarian action and a greatly enhanced level of international and inter-agency cooperation is necessary to meet the requirements of the current situation. In this context, delegations have welcomed the initiative of the High Commissioner in convening this meeting. There has been general agreement with the High Commissioner's conviction that the complexity of the problem requires a package of mutually reinforcing measures in the provision of protection and assistance. In addition, many delegations felt that such an approach could itself contribute to the creation of a climate of peace.

We can state that, on the whole, the meeting endorses the High Commissioner's suggestions for a comprehensive approach as outlined in document HCR/IMFY/1992/2 and revolving around the following seven key elements:

-       Respect for human rights and humanitarian law by all parties;

-       The pursuit of preventive protection to reduce the factors which compel displacement;

-       Humanitarian access at all times to those in need;

-       Measures to meet special humanitarian needs, notably those of medical cases and children;

-       The provision of temporary international protection to those forced to flee;

-       The massive mobilization of the international community, the United Nations system and other agencies to meet assistance needs;

-       The pursuit of lasting solutions, including the right of individuals to return home in safety and dignity.

Finally, I deduce from the statements made today that this meeting endorses the High Commissioner's recommendation that a follow-up committee be established to translate urgently into action the proposals for a comprehensive humanitarian approach as outlined in document HCR/IMFY/1992/2 and to oversee the implementation of its various elements.

Concerning the composition of the Follow-up Committee, there appears to have been agreement that it should consist of a "core group" of Governments and international agencies with a concrete humanitarian interest and contribution to make, including the countries of origin, host countries and donors. The Follow-up Committee could invite other interested States and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to participate in its work. It should periodically gather high-level officials from capitals responsible for the programmes under consideration.

There appears to be a consensus that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as head of the designated lead agency for humanitarian relief in former Yugoslavia, would convene the Committee. The High Commissioner would personally chair the first meeting tomorrow. UNHCR would liaise closely with the Department of Humanitarian Affairs and keep the Secretary-General and concerned Governments informed of the follow-up and implementation of the proposed comprehensive approach. Many delegations have emphasized that the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs will have a role to play in this context. We have learned with interest that Mr. Eliasson has already convened a meeting of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, on Yugoslavia, which is to take place tomorrow.

Delegations falling within the terms of reference of the "core group" are called upon to register with the Secretariat for the first meeting of the Follow-up Committee which will take place tomorrow, 30 July at 10.15 a.m. in Conference Room XXIII.

I trust that this summing up, which is not intended to be exhaustive, may be taken to reflect accurately the major themes of our debate.

It is so decided".

Search Refworld