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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Meeting of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 4 June 1993

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Meeting of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 4 June 1993

4 June 1993
Preventive effortsEmergency responseSolutionsResourcesManagement tools and the human factor

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to have once again this opportunity to meet with the Executive Committee. This Committee, with its active interest in and strong support of our activities, is a place where we can reflect together on a world which is adding new challenges daily to an already charged agenda.

Indeed, the demands are so numerous, the challenges so complex, our capacity to meet them so stretched and the resources to respond so limited, that one constant priority for my Office is to reinforce the links with existing partners and search for new ones in a coordinated international humanitarian effort. We must constantly strive to engage others while attempting to disengage ourselves where our job is done or when others are better equipped to do it.

It is a difficult and ambitious undertaking, which makes the successful completion of our operation in Cambodia all the more noteworthy. In Cambodia we have seen the fruits of active collaboration among the humanitarian, peace-keeping and development arms of the United Nations. With the close cooperation of UNTAC, UNHCR was able to bring back some 360,000 refugees in time to participate in the elections. From the very inception of the repatriation operation, UNHCR and UNDP have been involved through the CARERE Unit in jointly assessing, planning and implementing the reintegration phase. On 2 April, when the UNDP Administrator, Mr. Draper, and I walked together down a road near Sisophon, which was constructed as a Quick Impact Project, there was more than symbolic value in what we were doing. I believe it represented the kind of coordination and collaboration that I would like to see further expanded.

I am convinced that the strategy of prevention, emergency response and solutions, which I have been promoting, can only succeed to the extent that we manage to draw in the wider international community: governments, UN agencies, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. The issue which I would like to address today is how such a strategy of prevention, preparedness and solutions relates to the coordination of humanitarian assistance.

Preventive efforts

Let me begin with prevention. As the focus of UNHCR's activities shifts gradually from the relatively stable conditions in countries of asylum to the more turbulent and often evolving process in the country of origin, our work becomes more and more linked to the political efforts of the United Nations to bring about peace and security. Nowhere has this been more clearly demonstrated than in the former Yugoslavia, whether in the context of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia or in relation to the peace-keeping mission. I welcome the appointment of Mr. Stoltenberg as Co-Chairman of the Steering Committee of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia and also as the Secretary-General's Special Representative. In his latter capacity he has been charged with the supervision and coordination of all United Nations activities in the former Yugoslavia, including the humanitarian operation. I see this as a positive development to enhance coordination and cooperation between the political and humanitarian aspects of the operation in former Yugoslavia.

Such coordination between humanitarian action and peace-making and peace-keeping efforts is critical. Humanitarian action in the early phase of a conflict can buy time and open space for political initiatives, but it cannot stop the conflict. Likewise, humanitarian solutions for the return of refugees and displaced persons can only be durable if they are sustained by political action and peace-keeping and peace-building measures to bring about a comprehensive settlement.

In such complex situations, UNHCR often needs the political support of the Secretary-General, and through him, the Security Council. At the same time the more we get involved in wider peace-making and peace-keeping efforts, the more important it becomes for us to protect the integrity, impartiality and neutrality of our action on behalf of the victims. We must ensure that the interests of refugees, displaced and other vulnerable groups are not overlooked or sacrificed in the pursuit of other objectives. The only side we can be on in a conflict is on the side of the victim.

Emergency response

Let me now turn to emergency response. As you know, my Office has invested a lot of time and effort to strengthen its capacity to respond to emergencies. We are constantly drawing lessons from each new previous emergency and applying them to the next. I am satisfied that UNHCR today has the capacity to mobilize quickly and respond urgently to new refugee crises. I also believe that the measures already taken to enhance our own emergency response capacity, including the Emergency Fund, internal and external standby arrangements, training and stockpiling of goods in various regions of the world can contribute to a wider UN capacity to respond to so-called "complex" emergencies.

Coordination is important in mobilizing international response to complex emergencies. A first step must, however, be to define what constitutes a complex emergency. I believe an emergency is complex when its causes are mixed, for example when a disaster results from a combination of natural and man-made causes or when its very magnitude makes it difficult for any single agency to handle the emergency on its own. In such cases the need arises to mobilize a range of actors and coordinate their inputs in order to maximize the output.

Let me give you two clear examples. The exodus of over 200,000 Togolese refugees to Benin and Ghana earlier this year was a classical refugee emergency. As such, UNHCR immediately assumed its mandatory responsibility for providing protection and assistance to refugees. With the assistance of the generous host countries, Benin and Ghana, we mobilized relevant UN agencies, primarily WFP and UNICEF, as well as a number of NGOs. We despatched our Emergency Response Teams to the countries and drew upon our Emergency Fund, allocating a total of 3 million US dollars. A programme, totalling 9.9 million US dollars, has now been mounted, for which we are seeking urgent funding.

The crisis in Somalia, on the other hand, is in my view a complex emergency because of the complexity of causes and its very magnitude. In such a situation, we look to the leadership of the Secretary-General and the Department of Humanitarian Affairs to assign primary responsibility to the most appropriate agency and charge it with leading the relief effort. UNHCR remains ready to take the lead whenever the refugee element is the predominant component of a complex emergency. In other complex emergencies, UNHCR is prepared to play a supporting, secondary role. DHA has an important role to play in assigning primary and secondary responsibilities, with a clear division of labour based on existing capacities and expertise among UN agencies, the Red Cross and NGOs. DHA should facilitate cooperation, while the agencies should operate on the ground.


An effective emergency response must be followed by a determined search for solutions. UNHCR continues to seek to create the necessary conditions which can allow refugees to return home in safety and dignity. But voluntary repatriation is more than the logistics of moving people back across the border. We must monitor the safety of returnees. We must also promote their reintegration. I have often warned about repatriation programmes turning into returnee emergencies. While Afghanistan provides an example of this concern, Mozambique is a potential testing ground for getting it right.

There is a need to mobilize and coordinate the efforts of the UN system and the NGO community so that those agencies with the appropriate expertise and capacity are able to assume their responsibilities along the continuum from relief to rehabilitation and development. I see a clear advantage in the Resident Coordinator assuming a lead role in the field to mobilize UN agencies and involve NGOs in the continuum from relief to development. I would welcome greater efforts in this important area.

While the continuum describes the phase and sequence of activities, it also implies that involvement in planning and implementation must be both rapid and simultaneous. In other words, rather than looking at how UNHCR can "hand-over" to development agencies, we should talk about how UNHCR can phase out as others phase in.

In CIREFCA, we learned the difficulties of phasing out when arrangements for the active involvement of development agencies have not been made from the very beginning. I am pleased, however, that agreement has now been reached for UNDP to assume the lead agency role for the CIREFCA process beginning July. The lessons of CIREFCA were successfully applied in Cambodia. I hope that what we have learnt in Cambodia will in turn be further developed as we embark on the return of 1.5 million Mozambican refugees.


Mr. Chairman, we are operating in a turbulent world of limited resources and increasing demands. Contributions so far to the 1993 General Programme amount to some 200 million US dollars, which, together with funds brought forward from 1992, meet only 48% of our General Programmes target, while a number of important special programmes are seriously under-funded. I am painfully aware of the growing pressures on donor Governments at home and abroad which affect their ability to respond to our many appeals for funding. And I am grateful for the extraordinary efforts Governments have made - and are making - to respond positively. I hope I can count on our donors to promptly and generously finance the General Programmes.

In speaking of resources, let me say that UNHCR welcomes - and has participated actively in - joint assessment missions and preparations of consolidated appeals under the auspices of DHA. In the past I have expressed my concern at the delays which consolidated efforts cause in mobilizing funds and starting operations. I believe we have found a modus operandi whereby UNHCR has been able sometimes to inform donors of our needs in anticipation of a joint appeal. Such needs are then subsequently integrated in the consolidated appeal.

I remain concerned however at the multiplication of appeals which, I fear, may be losing touch with the reality of scarce resources. There is a need for greater prioritization of humanitarian programmes, for a more careful assessment of needs and budgets, and for the development of a global consolidated resource strategy incorporating individual consolidated appeals. Some hard choices will have to be made. Indeed, I believe the time has come for a major dialogue on the painful paradox between finite humanitarian resources in the face of infinite humanitarian demands. Otherwise, the credibility of Governments and the UN will eventually be tarnished by unfunded appeals. As always, the losers will be those in need of funding - in our case the refugees and the countries and communities hosting them.

Ever-increasing challenges, limited resources and our over-stretched capacity have made more crucial than ever our partnership with the NGOs. It is obvious that many gaps are being filled and can continue to be filled by NGOs. I am determined to reinforce our partnership with NGOs and help to develop the capacity of local NGOs. To pursue this goal, we are embarking on a series of regional NGO-UNHCR workshops in Caracas, Bangkok, Nairobi, Cairo and Budapest. They will culminate in a global NGO-UNHCR Conference called Partnership in Action and abbreviated as PARinAC, which will take place in Oslo, Norway in December of this year. I see these workshops and the PARinAC Conference in Oslo as one of our most important initiatives this year.

Management tools and the human factor

While I am committed to seeking external partners, we must, of course, constantly review and improve our own internal management tools. As you know from meetings of SCAF, we have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy on enhancing our personnel and programming policies and procedures. We are currently engaged in an internal exercise, under the chairmanship of the Director for Programmes and Operational Support, to examine our assistance policies, programme delivery and programmatic tools, in the light of the challenges which confront UNHCR. The Working Group will make recommendations for improved performance which I hope I can share with you at a later stage. My goal is to make UNHCR as effective and responsive as possible in tackling the problems and seizing the opportunities facing us.

But in improving our management tools we must not forget the human factor. UNHCR is an organization that works for people. We must constantly strive to provide the utmost protection, the quickest emergency relief and the most ideal solutions to all refugees. But in order to achieve these ends, we need to create a better working environment for our own people - our staff and those of our implementing partners. I am deeply concerned that this working environment has deteriorated dramatically over the last couple of years. We are increasingly operating in situations of conflict, tension and acute danger. Earlier this week three Italian and two Danish relief workers and a local interpreter were tragically killed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pending the results of a thorough investigation into the incident, we have temporarily stopped convoys carrying out secondary distribution in areas considered to be unsafe. Once the investigation is complete, we will assess, together with our partners, what action needs to be taken. Meanwhile, Mr. Stoltenberg is seeking assurances from the parties concerned for the safety of relief workers and convoys.

While we have taken measures - alone and in cooperation with the UN system - to improve security, it is obvious that the support we offer to our staff is not commensurate with the risks to which we expose them. We must do much more in this area. Secondly, our staff is increasingly called upon to work in areas of extreme hardship - not only hard on them but also, at times, inhibiting their family life. We have to look into ways of reducing their hardship, compensating for their sacrifices and facilitating their family unity. Thirdly, security risks and hardship conditions are taking a heavy physical and psychological toll on many of the staff. More must be done to help them cope with their trauma. Without an adequate and professional response, the consequences for their careers as well as their private lives could be most damaging.

During the more than two years that I have had the privilege to serve as High Commissioner for Refugees, I have visited UNHCR offices in Africa, Asia, Middle East, Central and Latin America as well as in Europe and North America. I have acquired an understanding of the plight of refugees. I have also developed a deep admiration for those working in the field - UNHCR staff and others - who serve the refugees in what must surely be one of the most demanding, but also one of the most rewarding tasks in today's world. We need to invest resources in improving conditions of service in the field. I know I can count on the support of this Committee also in this area, and I look forward to coming back to you with more concrete ideas when we meet in October.

I now look forward to hearing your views.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.