“We must do everything possible to prevent human suffering”
His Highness the Aga Khan visited the UNHCR headquarters on November 6, 2015 to meet UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, and discuss past and future cooperation in emergency operations around the world. His Highness is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and nephew of the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who was high commissioner for refugees from 1965-77, a pivotal period in the organization’s history.
His Highness was greeted by UNHCR staff before he held private talks with the High Commissioner followed by a meeting with senior UNHCR officials on the long-standing partnership between the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the UN refugee agency.
The two sides looked at ways of further strengthening their partnership in the Middle East, Asia and East Africa. They discussed possible new joint initiatives in areas such as contingency planning; pluralism and diverse societies; and country specific cooperation in areas where AKDN is active as well as global advocacy to bridge the humanitarian-development divide.
They also discussed the global political situation and the effects of extremism and sectarianism on previously tolerant and diverse societies.
“We must do everything possible to prevent human suffering,” said the Aga Khan. “But preempting humanitarian emergencies requires investments, equipment and the necessary resources to ensure the response system is already in place when the crisis hits.”
The High Commissioner agreed, noting that “UNHCR and the Aga Khan Development Network have a lot in common. It is partnerships like ours that can help broaden the way the international community responds to crises today – through a stronger humanitarian-development link, and by promoting closer cooperation with actors from different cultural and geographical backgrounds.”
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan
“AN EXCEPTIONAL MAN”
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, uncle of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, led the UN refugee agency during 12 years in the 1960s and 1970s, leaving an indelible print on UNHCR’s history. He led the agency through some of the most challenging moments, and his name became synonymous with UNHCR.
Prince Sadruddin became High Commissioner in January of 1966 at the age of 33 – the youngest person ever to lead UNHCR. Prior to becoming High Commissioner, he served for three years as Deputy High Commissioner. He was at the helm of the UN refugee agency during one of its most difficult periods. This included the 1971 the Bangladesh crisis, which uprooted 10 million people, the 1972 exodus of hundreds of thousands of Hutus from Burundi to Tanzania and the Indochinese boat people tragedy of the mid-1970s. In 1972, Prince Sadruddin played a key role in finding new homes for tens of thousands of South Asians expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin.
Prince Sadruddin’s entire adult life was devoted to humanitarian work. After leaving UNHCR at the end of 1977 at his own request, he served in various capacities, dealing with humanitarian situations in many parts of the world on behalf of the United Nations. These included Afghanistan and Iraq during the first Gulf war. He was also a trustee of a number of charity organisations. He published several books and received numerous national and international decorations, including the French Légion d’honneur and the United Nations Human Rights Award.
Simerg has come across many pieces of letters and documents on Prince Sadruddin in the UN archives, and we reproduce two below that serve as reminders of his priceless services to the United Nations.
[I] EXTENSION OF APPOINTMENT LETTER
“This extension…constitutes a new fixed term appointment on a $1 a year basis…”
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 “AN EXCEPTIONAL MAN”
“Prince Sadruddin was a statesman in the truest sense of the word. By focusing on the protection of refugees, he represented the moral and compassionate side of the international community…He worked on behalf of the poor and dispossessed, while celebrating humanity through culture and art…”
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Date posted: Saturday, November 7, 2015.
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- Report of His Highness Aga Khan’s visit to UNHCR and Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s profile compiled and adapted from the website of http://www.unhcr.org.
- United Nations Archives at https://archives.un.org/
Please also see the following articles on Prince Sadruddin posted on this website:
- A Thank You Letter to Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan – “A Man of Multiple Visions” by (Late) Mohezin Tejani
- Vali Jamal’s Thank You Letter to Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan: The 1972 Expulsion of Asians from Uganda
- Words of Wisdom from Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan to the Canadian Jamat
- Writings of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan; A Friend of Endangered Species, the Vulnerable Habitat and the Monk Seal
- Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan: Some of the Causes for the Refugee Crisis – Injustice, Intolerance and Lack of Respect for Human Rights
- Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan: A Rare and Insightful Interview With The UNESCO Courier
What is of more significance to me personally is the fact that AKDN and UNHCR are so similar of their humanitarian aim of fighting Poverty.
What a splendid occasion it must have been for His Highness the Aga Khan to go to the UNHCR where his uncle Prince Sadruddin held sway for 12 years around 1970. You have listed the crises he faced – 10 million refugees during the birth of Bangladesh in 1971; the Burundi refugees who streamed in to Tanzania in 1971; and the Uganda Asian expellees in 1972. You missed out half a million IDPs and refugees created by the war in South Sudan about the same time – and yet the Prince paid so much attention to us Uganda Asians! Around 4,000 or so of Uganda Asians wanted to stay on in Uganda based on their accepted citizenship and 2,000 or so had nowhere to go for being handicapped or otherwise unqualified. UNHCR came and picked up those 6,000, took them to five centres in Europe and from there resettled them in over 20 countries. There were Ismailis and nonIsmailis among them and all say thank you to Prince Sadruddin for his munificence. Canada took 7,000 or so of the expellees and HH Aga Khan played a role with his friend Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. How fitting that HH Aga Khan was meeting UNHCR chief in the same week as Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister, the first father-son accession in Canada’s history. Our success in resettling down in Canada did weigh in on Canada adopting the multiculturism law in 1988 and that in turn influenced the Aga Khan in siting his Global Centre for Pluralism in Canada. Justin Trudeau will bring back Canada on the path of multiculturism/pluralism. From my son who works at the UNHCR I heard that Prince Sadruddin was duly remembered by High Commissioner and the Aga Khan. I dare say PET and JT were not too far from their mind.