Statement by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the United Nations University, Tokyo, 24 October 2005
(Check against delivery)
Your Imperial Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to speak here on United Nations Day. I must say that I feel conspicuous doing so because we are in the home away from home of former High Commissioner Mrs. Sadako Ogata. I insist that this should be considered her second home as we at UNHCR still believe she belongs to us.
I am happy to note that another strong link with Japan was created earlier this month, when Ambassador Fujisaki was named the Chairman of our Executive Committee, the governing body of UNHCR.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Last month, the largest number of government leaders ever to assemble endorsed the 2005 World Summit Outcome, reaching consensus in areas of key relevance to UNHCR's work. Most important from the perspective of my Office, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was the decision of the member states to establish a Peacebuilding Commission.
UNHCR has long advocated for increased attention to peacebuilding. In 2000, High Commissioner Sadako Ogata called on the UN Security Council for "rapid and comprehensive efforts towards peace-building at various levels." With the advent of the Commission, this initiative is now taking shape.
For the work of UNHCR, success in the peacebuilding phase of a post-conflict situation is vital. Too little of the international community's attention and resources go to rebuild societies that have been torn apart by war and violence. Without adequate resources for development, institution-building and reconciliation, societies can unravel again, dormant conflicts can reignite, and civilians can be forcibly displaced once more.
Too little of the international community's attention and resources go to rebuild societies that have been torn apart by war and violence.
We have seen this scenario play out in many areas of the world, in Liberia, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo to name just a few. Half of all countries emerging from conflict slide back into violence within five years. It is an enormous drain of resources, but most of all, it has dramatic implications on human lives.
One of the major challenges my organization faces is ensuring the livelihood and well-being of refugees who have returned to their homeland, in other words, ensuring that refugees have actually returned for good and will not become refugees again. Existing links between humanitarian aid and development efforts simply do not work. And not following the unbroken line from relief to development is one of the international community's most consistent failures.
Today, the gap between short- and longer-term assistance reduces the chance that the solutions we find for people will last. Large-scale population returns are difficult to sustain if development stalls and instability grows. Hard-won solutions may in fact be tenuous, even after years of effort to build them.
Large-scale population returns are difficult to sustain if development stalls and instability grows.
This is particularly true when attention and resources move elsewhere. The international community's focus on security and terrorism since 9/11 is an example of this, and has exacerbated an already difficult state of affairs.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As far as I know, the only conceptual framework able to addresses all displacement-related problems is called, human security. It allows for a broad approach to assistance and places the emphasis on protection and empowerment. By maintaining the focus on people, human security builds safeguards into post-conflict recovery programmes to address the gaps that often arise as aid moves towards development. Human security can be seen as a complement to development as it highlights conditions and situations that threaten an individual's survival and well-being. It is also a complement to state security by addressing issues that are not usually considered direct state security threats. I pay tribute to those great contributions of Japan for a well run global community.
The Peacebuilding Commission is a step in this direction, one which Japan has supported for some time. It is also a key institutional link. My sincere hope is that it will create a bridge between the relief assistance provided by UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations, and development support from the World Bank, UNDP and other development actors and donors. The Commission should also ensure that recovery processes are sustained after the focus of international media has moved to the next crisis.
I look forward to working closely with the Peacebuilding Commission to address not only the relief to development gap, but the many complex needs of societies emerging from conflict. As a refugee agency, UNHCR is particularly interested in the restoration of a credible rule of law system, including the re-establishment of a national protection and law enforcement environment that is conducive to the safe and sustainable return of displaced populations. The effective demobilization, disarmament and rehabilitation of ex-combatants, too, is absolutely essential to maintaining a fragile peace.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This concept, human security already informs our work. Using this concept, a broader understanding of the importance of the reintegration phase - a community's chance to renew with peace and prosperity, and end the cycle of displacement - has become a key part of UNHCR's operating principles and has led to fundamental changes in the way we approach refugee return.
the reintegration phase - a community's chance to renew with peace and prosperity, and end the cycle of displacement.
Allow me to describe three of UNHCR's experiences in this area.
In Liberia, UNHCR's community-based reintegration programme supports peacebuilding and reconciliation in the main areas of return. Restoring infrastructure and basic services aims to ensure that the goodwill and limited absorption capacity of receiving communities are not overburdened in the critical post-conflict climate.
By helping people rebuild their livelihoods at the individual and community levels, the project is designed to create a viable environment for returning refugees and displaced persons, ex-combatants and receiving communities to coexist peacefully. Resources are directed towards efforts which will increase the absorption capacity of receiving communities and the development of community projects to promote peaceful co-existence. Some of the efforts in Liberia are targeted for funding by the government of Japan, with the 'Peace Building Grant Aid'.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Afghans represented the world's largest single refugee group for most of two decades. Now, as the largest organized repatriation in the history of UNHCR, Afghanistan is an example of prolonged human insecurity and of how a major political and humanitarian emergency has shifted to a more complex development challenge.
As in previous large-scale repatriations to Cambodia, Mozambique, Namibia and Central America, UNHCR is carrying out a wide range of protection and assistance activities to help Afghans reintegrate and rebuild their lives. UNHCR and partner organizations assist returning refugees and displaced people as part of a genuinely comprehensive programme, seeking to ensure their successful reintegration and thereby consolidating the peace process against all odds.
UNHCR Afghanistan participates in a wide range of general rehabilitation programmes and in activities aimed at encouraging reconciliation. Although returnee families are targeted for specific aid, such as shelter materials to rebuild their homes, most projects benefit entire communities to avoid creating disparities and exacerbating possible tensions between returnees and neighbours who never left the area.
The 'Ogata Initiative' has brought these concepts together in a single comprehensive framework in Afghanistan. Much of UNHCR's assistance there has made been possible by Japanese government funds, channelled through the Initiative, which helps high-return areas, in a phased way, by mobilizing both humanitarian and development actors.
In the North Caucasus, there were as many as 240,000 internally displaced people from Chechnya in Ingushetia at the height of the humanitarian crisis. That figure is now approximately 30,000.
Despite the shift towards positive incentives for return, there are still 200,000 persons displaced inside the Chechen Republic itself. And despite positive measures aimed at addressing socio-economic gaps, many more internally displaced persons have returned to a life without shelter, without education, and without access to health care.
UNHCR is using the human security framework in the North Caucasus to empower populations through mechanisms that are inclusive, rather than exclusive. We are working with the Russian government and people of the North Caucasus to provide returnees and displaced persons access to legal advice and counselling. We act through NGOs to help individuals assess their options and take informed action. We are trying to ensure that the grievances and concerns of the people find their way into the political process for resolution. And we collaborate with civil society to empower populations and to defend their human rights.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have cited just a few of the reasons why UNHCR is enthusiastic about the advent of the Peacebuilding Commission. We intend to play an active role in the Peacebuilding Support Office, which member states have said should start work no later than the end of this year.
Earlier this month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan addressed UNHCR's Executive Committee. I believe it may be particularly appropriate to quote the Secretary-General on UN day. In his words, the Peacebuilding Commission "fills a gaping institutional hole." I fully agree with the Secretary-General and am therefore all the more pleased that he has encouraged UNHCR to play a proactive role in support of the Commission.
We believe the Peacebuilding Commission will mark major progress in addressing the root causes of forced displacement.
Here as in all other areas, I see our partnership with Japan as a true strategic one, developing new concepts, new policies, and new programmes into action. At present, solutions for many victims of conflict and persecution remain stubbornly out of reach. Much of the time, UNHCR can only treat the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself. We believe the Peacebuilding Commission will mark major progress in addressing the root causes of forced displacement and has the potential to make a lasting difference in the lives of millions of people.