San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rican chosen to head U.N. refugee body

A Costa Rican diplomat has been elected president of the Executive Committee of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCR).

Laura Thompson, Costa Rica´s permanent representative before the United Nations in Geneva, will be UNCHR´s second-highest official, after High Commissioner Navi Pillay, a South African judge.

Thompson is the first woman in 45 years to be elected to the post and will serve until October 2009, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

Thompson said in the statement that she will “try to create the necessary conditions” so that refugees who have suffered from armed conflict and natural disasters “will have a safe and dignified place to live” until they are reunited with their families.

Costa Rica has 13,000 refugees, more than any other Latin American country except Ecuador, and Immigration receives 130 applications for refugee status every month, according to the news wire service EFE.

Established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1950, the UNHCR coordinates international action to protect refugees worldwide. In 2007, Costa Rica joined the Executive Committee, which has 76 member states and meets annually in Geneva to review and approve UNHCR programs and budget.

Costa Rica will also assume the presidency of the U.N. Security Council during the month of November.

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