Remarks by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 17 June 2005

Thanks to Deputy High Commissioner, Wendy Chamberlin, for stewarding UNHCR during its transition period (since departure of High Commissioner Lubbers)
All must assume more responsibility for refugees, plus improve collective response to internal displacement
Discussion is all very well, but "what really matters is delivering protection and solutions to those who need it"
UNHCR must be a pioneer in gender equity and concerns for women, children and other vulnerable groups
Three urgent choices:
- "make transparency and accountability the cornerstone of our action": IGO to be strengthened and its independence guaranteed
- Changing nature of protection: "My vision for protection at UNHCR is to erase the separation between protection and operations"
Creation of Assistant HC for Protection aims to close gap between protection and operations and also gap between HQ and field
- Internal displacement
Also need to reform, and improve capacity to respond to emergencies
Wants to broaden funding base, including private sector
Shocked by learning that some camp refugees are not receiving enough food
Concerned too by recent forced returns between countries with bilateral agreements, under UNHCR protest
Commitment to the most important people to UNHCR - refugees - underscored by spending World Refugee Day in Uganda

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon. It is an honour for me to be here today. A great pleasure to meet with you so soon after assuming my functions. Thank you all for coming. I want to say how much I value the support of the countries and organizations of the Executive Committee, looking forward to our cooperation. I welcome too the presence of NGOs. You represent an extremely valuable partnership, without which UNHCR could not carry out its work.

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to the Deputy High Commissioner, Wendy Chamberlin, for the tremendous job she has done as Acting High Commissioner. She and our Assistant High Commissioner, Kamel Morjane - who I will never forget for his gracious welcome - have successfully steered UNHCR through this transition period. I arrived to find a sound organization in very good hands. I genuinely appreciate the cooperation that you have extended to them.

I want to state finally how proud I am to be part of a team that works all over the world for such a noble cause. In the colleagues I have been able to meet so far, I sensed true devotion and full commitment to our goals.

I take up the leadership of UNHCR at a time when the right of refugees to seek asylum is still very much at risk. All of us must do more in assuming our respective responsibilities for refugees. And the same to improve the collective response to the protection and assistance of persons displaced due to internal armed conflicts.

Not only does UNHCR need to respond to these existing challenges, but anticipate new problems that may emerge in the coming years, increasing the need for protection. We must be prepared to take them on.

Much of what we will discuss with you today is about what makes UNHCR work - in other words, our strategies, structure, and organization. But let's not forget that refugees and other persons of our concern come - always - first. Everything else should be a function of that. What really matters is delivering protection and solutions to those who need it.

"What really matters is delivering protection and solutions to those who need it."

For that to be possible there is a basic precondition. UNHCR must be a pioneer in the international community, both with gender equity as a priority in staff relations and with the protection of women, children, and other vulnerable groups always at the forefront of our concerns when programming and acting in the field.

"UNHCR must be a pioneer in the international community, both with gender equity as a priority in staff relations and with the protection of women, children, and other vulnerable groups always at the forefront of our concerns when programming and acting in the field"

Mr. Chairman,

During the past few years, an overwhelming amount of work has been done to adapt UNHCR to the changing external environment. I am frankly impressed with the Office's effort developing so many new policies, projects, guidelines and management initiatives.

What emerges just as clearly from my reading is that many of these initiatives have not yet become integral to the way we work. Many remain concepts, rather than practice. We have an 'implementation gap'. To address it, we must set priorities, take care to match our objectives and resources, and ensure that this consolidation draws Headquarters closer to the field.

I want to say here at the outset that I see no need for a raft of new initiatives. My goal is rather to consolidate and implement what is already underway.

That being so, I cannot overlook three urgent choices we presently face, and which need to be decided in cooperation with the Executive Committee.

1.) In the management of all operations, we will make transparency and accountability the cornerstone of our action. This determines how we are perceived by partners, supporters, and refugees themselves. Transparency and accountability are vital to the self-esteem of the staff and the future of the organization.

I know the role of UNHCR's Inspector General is of significant interest to the Executive Committee. My first priority is to ensure the independence of his office, and to work with you to guarantee it. We will elaborate and enforce clear rules of non-interference in the substantive work of the IGO - non-interference from senior management, outside sources, and the High Commissioner himself.

Transparency requires the results of inspections be shared with stakeholders. Executive summaries of inspection reports will be available to members of ExCom through our internet site. They may also request the full inspection reports and ask relevant follow-up questions of the Inspector General.

I believe in the ability of Results-Based Management to deliver high-quality programmes based on targeted planning and clear objectives, guaranteeing accountability throughout the organization. I am personally committed to a management system based on attaining measured results.

"I am personally committed to a management system based on attaining measured results."

Accountability takes many forms, but our first responsibility is of course to the refugees, stateless, and internally displaced persons we are charged with caring for and protecting. To refugees fleeing for their lives, material aid cannot be dissociated from legal aid. Food, water and shelter that sustain them cannot be separated from the protection officer who works to prevent their refoulement.

2.) The core of our mandate is protection. Providing it to those in need is both an immutable duty and a permanently evolving challenge. My vision for protection at UNHCR is, in short, to erase the separation between protection and operations. It is also to empower people and help them rebuild their lives in dignity as full citizens.

For that, with respect to the composition of my senior management team, and taking into consideration the concerns expressed in the recent past by ExCom, I agree that replacing the post of Director for International Protection with that of an Assistant High Commissioner for Protection makes sense. But it only makes sense as one of the instruments to bridge two gaps: the gap between protection and operations, and the gap between Headquarters and the field. This is particularly true when we simultaneously must successfully mainstream Convention Plus and give resettlement an adequate priority through the creation of a dedicated service.

It is my belief that we need both AHCs, beyond their other specific tasks, to oversee together a single, integrated support entity for the field, comprising both technical and protection support, all durable solutions including resettlement, and the development assistance implications.

Our goal should be to unify everything which is done on a regular basis for the field. In relations for both support and accountability, receiving direction and making reports, we want the field to see, in Headquarters, a one-stop shop. The refugees and other persons we protect are the raison d'être for the Office. Similarly, the field is the raison d'être for Headquarters.

In order to avoid having the two AHCs preside over two completely separate fields of activity, and since the main goal of operations is to deliver protection, I am working on a proposal to address this concern which I will share with you shortly for decision at the next session of the Executive Committee.

The same common perspective requires a combined policy development and evaluation unit able to provide coherent guidance on issues of primary importance, such as our involvement with internally displaced persons and the impact on our actions of the asylum and migration nexus.

3.) It is important for us to be able, in consultation with partners and stakeholders, to clarify our position on the questions that confront both the Office and the larger humanitarian community, particularly after the presentation by the Secretary-General of the report "In Larger Freedom".

We count on you, the Executive Committee and its members, to help us formulate the criteria and policies for effective engagement in the collaborative approach to address the protection challenges of internal displacement. I will keep you informed of the work to be done with the Senior Management Committee and with the other agencies, OCHA in particular, in the coming weeks.

Our commitment to internally displaced people must be clear; as clear as that it must not, in any way, undermine the capacity to deliver protection and solutions to refugees in accordance with our mandate. This is particularly true regarding the required additionality of financial resources.

The current UN reform effort carries an obligation for UNHCR to be involved. I can assure you that we will participate in the reform process in a constructive and forward-looking way.

We must also ensure that UNHCR improves its capacity and ability to respond to emergency situations. Maintaining a response capacity requires trained staff, early warnings and rapid deployment. It also represents a sizeable financial commitment.

Mr. Chairman,

This is our first meeting, and I should therefore not even have used the term 'financial commitment'. But I hope you will allow me to express a few concerns on the topic of funding.

One of the figures which struck me the most is the concentrated nature of our support. Substantial efforts to broaden our funding base have already brought some modest results. It is my hope that this trend will accelerate, and my strategy will be to approach 'non-traditional' donors and the private sector with a very specific request to increase, or start, their funding for UNHCR. The issues we bring to you in this forum are truly global and concern everybody.

Predictable funding and the flexibility afforded us by non-earmarked funds are rightly seen as essential principles of 'good donorship'. This is also where donors share in UNHCR's accountability, both to the people of our concern and to run an efficient organization. We also continue to rely on your generosity to respond to unanticipated gaps as a result of emergencies and currency fluctuations. Only this can ensure reliable protection of refugees.

Mr. Chairman,

The biggest shock I have received in the past few days was when reading in a protection report that food rations in many of our camps are substantially below what is needed. I must tell you I feel devastated, sitting here with you today, knowing that refugees we care for are not getting enough food. We are working to address this with the World Food Programme, one of our closest partners, and I join them in asking for your urgent support. It is a problem for all of us. As that report notes, "it has severe protection consequences for refugees, including increased domestic violence, prostitution and other sexual and gender-based violence, as well as drop-out from school, child labour and exposure to trafficking." This is a truly unbearable situation, and it is our moral responsibility to ensure these conditions do not persist.

Being dramatic in itself, this is of course part of a broader challenge. We will not rest knowing that there are refugee mothers anywhere in the world who worry about their hungry children, or refugee students yearning for an education, or refugees with HIV/AIDS who do not have access to drugs. Our collective failures to meet core needs can lead to escalating tragedies for those who are already among the most vulnerable in the world.

Allow me to raise another immediate concern, with potentially far-reaching consequences. This week, in two different regions, asylum-seekers were forcibly returned against their will to their countries of origin under bilateral arrangements between country of origin and host state. In both situations, UNHCR was working actively to find solutions for the asylum-seekers when the refoulement took place. We publicly condemned those actions. They send the wrong message to other governments. This lax attitude to asylum must be deplored and countered with the right message. It is not at the expense of refugees and asylum-seekers that security, a concern for us all, can be enforced.

"It is not at the expense of refugees and asylum-seekers that security, a concern for us all, can be enforced."

I began by saying that I want to put refugees and people of our concern first. This is why I consider it appropriate to start my tenure as High Commissioner and mark World Refugee Day where it counts most: with refugees. I will travel to Uganda this weekend to take part in World Refugee Day celebrations, staying in refugee camps in Arua and Moyo.

I am honoured and humbled by the trust that the Secretary-General and you have placed in me, and will do all I can to earn your continued support for UNHCR. You can count on my full commitment to this organization and to its great humanitarian cause.

Thank you.