Ministers' Deputies / Rapporteur Groups
GR-J
Rapporteur Group on Legal Co-operation

GR-J(2006)8 10 May 20061
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Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1729 (2005) – Activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) –
Draft reply

Item to be considered by the GR-J at its meeting on 1 June 2006 and by the GR-H at its meeting on 13 June 2006.

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Background

1. The Parliamentary Assembly adopted the Recommendation 1729 (2005) on Activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on 25 November 2005.

2. At their 951st meeting (14 December 2005, item 3.1), the Ministers’ Deputies agreed to bring the Recommendation to their governments’ attention. On the same occasion, they agreed to communicate it to agreed to communicate it to the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ), to the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) and to the Council of Europe Development Bank, for information and possible comments by 31 March 2006. Finally, they invited their Rapporteur Group on Human Rights
(GR-H), in co-operation with their Rapporteur Group on Legal Co-operation (GR-J), to prepare a draft reply for adoption at one of their forthcoming meetings.

3. The Secretariat has prepared the following draft reply to the Recommendation in the light of opinions received from the CDCJ and the Development Bank (see the Appendices 1-2). The GR-J is invited to examine the draft reply with a view to its subsequent transmission to the GR-H. The next meeting of the GR-H will be held on 13 June 2006.

Concerning the Recommendation

4. In its Recommendation the Parliamentary Assembly refers to its Resolution 1474 (2005) on the activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and considers that the Council of Europe could provide further support and impetus to intergovernmental discussions on the pressing issues pertaining to refugees’ protection within and outside Europe.

5. Therefore, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

- encourage Council of Europe member states to support the UNCHR’s “Convention Plus” process, which aims to enhance the system of refugee protection and provide durable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers, by acknowledging the need for a series of special agreements to complement the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in order to meet today’s challenges in managing refugee movements and internal displacement;
- further develop co-operation with the UNHCR on the legal interpretation of the status of refugees and asylum seekers;

- encourage further collaboration, based on the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 14 March 2005 between the Council of Europe Development Bank and the UNHCR, in order to continue to contribute to finding just and durable solutions to the problems of refugees in the Balkans.

Draft reply

1. The Committee of Ministers welcomes Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1729 (2005) on Activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Committee has communicated the Recommendation to the governments of its member states.

2. The Committee of Ministers highly appreciates the efforts of the UNHCR to fulfill its mandate and to develop new tools and agreements to enhance the refugee protection regime in today’s difficult climate of perceived threats related notably to terrorism, transnational crime and migration flows. It considers that the UNHCR’s “Convention Plus” process, to which the Assembly’s Recommendation refers, constitutes a promising tool to improve refugee protection worldwide and to facilitate the resolution of refugee problems through multilateral special agreements. The Committee therefore encourages member states, when appropriate, to take part in the process with a view to addressing current and future refugee challenges more effectively.

3. With regard to the Assembly’s call on the Committee of Ministers to “further develop co-operation with the UNHCR on the legal interpretation of the status of refugees and asylum seekers”, the Committee wishes to underling that the UNHCR has always been closely associated with the Council of Europe’s standard setting work in this field as it enjoyed observer status, and actively participated in all the meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on the Legal Aspects of Territorial Asylum, Refugees and Stateless Persons (CAHAR). [It should also be noted that the Committee of Ministers has recently revised the terms of reference of the CDCJ with a view to enabling it to work in the field of asylum, refugees and stateless persons. It would welcome the UNHCR’s participation in any standard setting work the CDCJ may be invited to undertake.]2

4. The Committee is pleased to inform the Assembly that in the framework of the Council of Europe’s assistance programmes, as well as the Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees of 25 August 1999, the UNHCR and the Council of Europe are conducting national workshops on those European standards that are relevant for the protection of refugees, displaced persons and asylum-seekers. Such joint activities are planned in 2006 in Armenia, Georgia, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Montenegro and Ukraine. The two organisations also co-organised the 3rd Colloquy on the European Convention on Human Rights and the protection of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons in October 2005.

5. In respect of the Assembly’s recommendation that the Committee of Ministers encourage further collaboration, based on the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 14 March 2005 between the Council of Europe Development Bank and the UNHCR, in order to continue to contribute to finding just and durable solutions to the problems of refugees in the Balkans, the Committee recalls that the Memorandum of Understanding defines relevant objectives, resources, arrangements and priority geographical sectors and consolidates already well-established co-operation.

6. Since 1999 seven donations have been approved for projects implemented in full or in part by UNHCR for a total disbursed amount of € 2.8 million. These projects in favour of refugees and internally displaced persons contributed to providing emergency assistance, housing solutions or local integration opportunities for refugees and IDP’s in South-Eastern Europe. The Bank’s Administrative Council also approved a loan, in November 2004, for an amount of € 8 million in favour of the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina for a project aimed at permanent housing solutions benefiting approximately 4500 IDPs registered with UNHCR and living in collective centres and alternative housing.

7. The Committee of Ministers underlines that the Development Bank maintains regular contacts with the authorities of the countries in South East Europe and stands ready to contribute to the financing of further investment projects aimed at durable solutions to the problems of refugees that member countries may wish to present. It notes that co-operation with the UNHCR will continue to play an important role in refugee-related projects.

8. The Committee of Ministers finally informs the Assembly that the Governing Board has decided to bring the Assembly Recommendation to the attention of the Bank’s Administrative Council, which is competent for the approval of projects.

Appendix 1 to the reply

Opinion of European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ)
on Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1729 (2005)
on Activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

1. Following the adoption by the Parliamentary Assembly of Recommendation 1729 (2005) on Activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Committee of Ministers decided to communicate it to the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ), for information and possible comments by 31 March 2006.

2. The CDCJ took note of the Recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly and, in relation to it, wishes to make the following comments.

3. The CDCJ would first like to pay tribute to the UNHCR for assisting Council of Europe member States in providing adequate protection to those victims of persecution and violence who were forced to leave their place of origin. It is well aware that the UNHCR’s task is made all the more difficult in today’s climate of perceived threats related notably to terrorism, transnational crime and migration flows. The CDCJ supports the efforts of the UNHCR to fulfill its mandate in this difficult environment and to develop new tools and agreements to enhance the refugee protection regime.

4. In this respect, the CDCJ believes that UNHCR’s “Convention Plus” process (para. 3.1) constitutes a promising tool to improve refugee protection worldwide and to facilitate the resolution of refugee problems through multilateral special agreements. It encourages member states, when appropriate, to take part in the process with a view to address current and future refugee challenges more effectively.

5. With regard to para. 3.2 of the Recommendation that calls upon the Committee of Ministers to “further develop co-operation with the UNHCR on the legal interpretation of the status of refugees and asylum seekers”, the CDCJ notes that the UNHCR has always been closely associated with the Council of Europe’s standard setting work in this field as it enjoyed observer status, and actively participated in all the meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on the Legal Aspects of Territorial Asylum, Refugees and Stateless Persons (CAHAR). The CDCJ also notes that - following the suspension of the activities of CAHAR - its own terms of reference are to be amended with a view to enabling it, at the request of the Committee of Ministers, to make proposals aimed at providing legal solutions, to problems which member states face in the field of asylum, refugees and stateless persons. In this light, the CDCJ stresses that it would welcome the UNHCR’s participation in any standard setting work which it might be invited to undertake.

6. The CDCJ also notes with satisfaction that in the framework of the Council of Europe’s assistance programmes, the UNHCR and the Council of Europe are conducting national workshops on those European standards that are relevant for the protection of refugees, displaced persons and asylum-seekers. The CDCJ is of the opinion that the Council of Europe should remain in close co-operation with the UNHCR in the protection of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons in Europe.

Appendix 2 to the reply

Opinion of the Governing Board of the Council of Europe Development Bank on Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1729 (2005) on Activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

“The Governing Board took note of paragraph 3.3 of the Parliamentary Assembly’s recommendation 1729 (2005), asking the Committee of Ministers to:“3.3. encourage further collaboration, based on the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 14 March 2005 between the Council of Europe Development Bank and the UNHCR, in order to continue to contribute to finding just and durable solutions to the problems of refugees in the Balkans.”

In this connection, it recalls that the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Council of Europe Development Bank defines the relevant objectives, resources, arrangements and priority geographical sectors and consolidates the already well-established co-operation.

Since 1999 seven donations were approved for projects implemented in full or in part by UNHCR for a total disbursed amount of € 2.8 million. These projects in favour of refugees and internally displaced persons contributed to providing emergency assistance, housing solutions or local integration opportunities for refugees and IDP’s in South-Eastern Europe.

The Administrative Council of the CEB also approved a loan, in November 2004, for an amount of € 8 million in favour of the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina for a project aimed at permanent housing solutions benefiting approximately 4500 IDP’s among the group of the most needy among IDPs registered with UNHCR and living in Collective Centres and Alternative Housing.

It further recalls that the CEB maintains regular contacts with the authorities in the countries of South East Europe and stands ready to contribute to the financing of further investment projects they might wish to present aimed at durable solutions to the problems of the refugees. Co-operation with the UNHCR will continue to play an important role in refugee-related projects.

Note 1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue. Unless the Committee of Ministers decides otherwise, it will be declassified according to the rules set up in Resolution Res(2001)6 on access to Council of Europe documents.
Note 2 The revised terms fo reference of the CDCJ are on the agenda of the GR-J meeting to be held on 1 June 2006 and on the agenda of the Deputies’ 967th meeting (14 June 2006).


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