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Opening Remarks by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, Mexico City, 15 November 2004

Statements by High Commissioner, 15 November 2004

Secretary of State Derbez,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to open today's event. I would like to welcome the many distinguished delegates who have travelled long distances to join us for this commemoration. I am especially happy that my predecessor as High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Sadako Ogata, could join us today. Her presence attests to her continued engagement towards refugees in Latin America. I would also like to extend a special welcome to Ambassador Escudero, Chairman of UNHCR's Executive Committee.

The Government and people of Mexico deserve special recognition and gratitude for having accepted so graciously to host this event. This is a reflection of Mexico's continued commitment to refugee protection, in line with its long tradition of asylum. It is worth recalling that Mexico's refugee policy in the 1980s and 1990s was guided by the principles of the Cartagena Declaration before the country had even acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Indeed, after the adoption of the Cartagena Declaration, Mexico was the first country to include its expanded refugee definition in its national legislation. UNHCR is extremely appreciative of Mexico's support and partnership throughout the preparatory process.

The Inter-American System is also a very important sponsor of this process. The human rights organs of the Inter-American System have made a critical contribution to the development of high human rights standards, which complement and strengthen refugee protection. The Inter-American System is represented here today by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.

The Norwegian Refugee Council has been a close and much appreciated partner in organizing this event. The Norwegian Refugee Council has worked to ensure that the voice of civil society has been heard throughout the consultative process. The experiences and viewpoints of civil society, as indispensable partners in the protection of refugees, are reflected in the draft Declaration and Plan of Action to be considered by you later during this meeting.

Special words of appreciation must also go to the Committee of Experts which provided valuable academic expertise and guidance to the preparatory process. This Committee is composed of four prominent jurists: Mr. Antonio Cancado Trinidade of Brazil, Mr. Santiago Corcuera of Mexico, Mr. Leonardo Franco of Argentina and Mr. Jorge Santistevan of Peru, the latter two are also distinguished former UNHCR colleagues.

Distinguished delegates,

We are here today to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees. Though Cartagena, Latin America responded in a pragmatic, innovative and principled fashion to the protection and durable solutions needs of refugees in the 1980s and 1990s. But this event is not just a retrospective journey. More importantly, we are here to reaffirm a commitment to the rights of refugees in Latin America as we face new challenges and realities on the continent.

I am confident that the adoption of a Declaration and Plan of Action at the conclusion of this meeting will enable us to strengthen partnerships and identify innovative ways to help more refugees. Through renewed partnerships, strengthened international cooperation and regional solidarity, we will ultimately provide more effective protection and find permanent solutions for refugees in Latin America.

In closing, I would like to thank all of the delegates from the governmental, academic and civil society sectors here today once again for your active participation throughout the consultative process.

I look forward to participating in this important meeting with you.

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