General Assembly Endorses Landmark Global Compact on Refugees, Adopting 53 Third Committee Resolutions, 6 Decisions Covering Range of Human Rights
17 December 2018
The General Assembly endorsed the Global Compact on Refugees today — an historic agreement aiming to forge a stronger and fairer response to refugee movements — as it adopted 53 resolutions and 6 decisions recommended by its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).
By a resolution on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, adopted by a recorded vote of 181 in favour to 2 against (Hungary, United States), with 3 abstentions (Eritrea, Liberia, Libya), the Assembly underscored the importance of the Global Compact on Refugees — as presented by the High Commissioner in part II of his annual report — as an expression of political will to activate the principle of burden- and responsibility-sharing.
Germany’s representative, also speaking on behalf of France and the Netherlands, called the Compact a “major step” towards providing sustainable solutions to the world’s refugees and those who host them. Hungary’s representative, explaining her vote against the resolution, said there is no need for new instruments, as existing international frameworks adequately address refugee issues. Further, the Global Compact fails to distinguish between refugees and migrants and does not take into account the voluntary nature of responsibility sharing. The representative of the Russian Federation, while emphasizing the importance of burden-sharing to ensure international solidarity in addressing refugee issues, stressed that the agreement is not binding and therefore does not impose any legal obligation on his country.
Covering a range of human rights issues — from the rights of children, women, peasants and indigenous peoples, to promoting fundamental freedoms of religion, peaceful assembly and free association — the Assembly adopted most resolutions without a vote, including an inaugural text on combating trafficking in human organs, as a “novel” approach to crime prevention that addresses three perspectives on which such crimes should be analysed: human rights, health and criminal justice.
By its terms, the Assembly urged States to ensure that the removal and transplantation of human organs exclusively take place in centres authorized by national health authorities, as well as to enhance regulatory oversight and establish data registries on each organ recovery and transplant procedure.
The Global Compact on Refugees is a positive step toward a better refugee response
International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council and Danish Refugee Council welcome the affirmation of the Global Compact on Refugees today. The Compact has the potential to provide better protection and care for refugees and development benefits to hosting communities.
With the UN General Assembly vote in New York, an overwhelming majority of UN Member States affirmed a pact of international solidarity and cooperation for refugee protection and host community development.
Starting in 2019, significant progress can be achieved if States take immediate action to deliver on the promised changes to improve conditions for people fleeing war, persecution and environmental degradation, and address the concerns of the communities hosting them.
As key partners in achieving the objectives laid out in the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) we see five key areas: equitable responsibility-sharing; holding ourselves and States accountable to progress; enhancing the leadership of affected communities in designing the response; strengthening protection and coping strategies for people of concern; and delivering real solutions to end their displacement. By focusing on the following five areas we can collectively achieve the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees.
Progress towards equitable responsibility-sharing is key. Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, calls for States to prepare concrete pledges at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum: “The responsibility for hosting refugees is now primarily shouldered by a few low- and middle-income countries close to war zones. The most affluent nations are neither receiving refugees nor supporting host nations in any significant way. We need real responsibility sharing from all rich nations, so that refugee crises can be managed. All countries must do their share,” says Egeland.
Accountability is necessary for a non-binding document and 2019 must be the year where ambitious benchmarks for the success of the Compact are defined: “It is shocking that we still have no systematic way to assess progress on refugee outcomes nor the billions provided to assist them. Three years after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, we know refugees are being left behind” says David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee. “Accountability and commitment to what works must be at the center of the Compact’s implementation. The establishment of the World Bank-UNHCR Joint Data Centre is a good first step, but it is critical that we agree clear metrics on outcomes and gather better data to drive real improvements in the lives of refugees and their hosts.”
Enhanced voice and leadership of the people concerned must also be a concrete result of the Compact already in 2019: “As world leaders come together to affirm the Global Compact on Refugees, the opportunity for the people most affected by displacement to build a better, fairer system that reflects their needs must not be lost. We must ensure direct and meaningful participation from refugees and host communities in the implementation of the Compact, as they are experts on their own needs, agents for their families and communities, and indispensable leaders for change,” said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director.
Also, we expect to see real changes in the lives of refugees and hosting communities. We need to work collectively to realise the potential of the Compact to deliver better refugee protection in practice. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Chief Executive Officer for Save the Children International says: “This historic agreement offers us the chance to make a real difference to the lives of refugees. Refugee children make up half of all refugees, and they are always the most vulnerable. We hope this Compact will help protect these children and give them the future they have the right to. What refugee children tell us they want most of all is an education. So we are delighted that the Compact pledges that all refugee children will be in school and learning within a few months of crossing an international border and that funding should be provided to enable this, particularly support for host countries. There is no time to waste to make this promise a reality for refugee children.”
Lastly, it is critical that the Compact results in expanded solutions for refugees: “In 2019, we must start using the Global Compact on Refugees to expand access to durable solutions not least in protracted displacement situations. The Compact sets a standard keeping us all accountable to increased resettlement, to ensure that all returns are safe and dignified, and to include, empower and engage refugees where ever they are. To that end, it is essential that the Global Refugee Forum becomes a forum for action – not for talking” says Christian Friis Bach, Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council.
While we are disappointed that the US and Hungary have chosen not to affirm the Global Compact on Refugees, we remain optimistic and open to continued dialogue with them as the agreement is implemented.
Following today’s positive step toward a better refugee response, the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council and Danish Refugee Council urge States to ensure a truly global application of the Global Compact on Refugees. Millions of refugees and host community members expect a better future; and the Compact must and can deliver it.