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High Commissioner's Closing Remarks to 62nd Session of ExCom

Speeches and statements

High Commissioner's Closing Remarks to 62nd Session of ExCom

7 October 2011

Palais des Nations, Geneva, 7 October 2011

Edited version of delivered remarks

Allow me to begin by expressing my deep gratitude to Ambassador Badr for his extremely competent leadership of the EXCOM during this past year. You have been an intelligent and passionate advocate of our cause, and an excellent manager of a growing Executive Committee, obtaining the consensus that was needed for moving forward. We are very grateful for this and know that even after leaving the office, you will continue to strongly support our activities.

I would also like to thank the new Chair and past Vice-Chair, Ambassador Jan Knutsson. You have been a close friend to UNHCR - first in Stockholm where you were so committed to UNHCR's mission, and now here. We strongly count on you to lead the Executive Committee next year and provide it the guidance, advice and leadership necessary.

Let me tell our rapporteur, Sofia Lascurian that the colleagues you have worked with are very impressed with you, your dynamism and commitment. You have made great efforts, and I thank you very much.

It is a pleasure for me to welcome to the Board the new Vice-Chair, Ms. Arango Olmos, and our new rapporteur, Ms. Hanlumyuang.

I would also like to express to the President of Tunisia our gratitude for his presence and valuable contribution to EXCOM this week. Finally, I wish to convey my gratitude to all participating delegations who made this meeting a success.

* * *

There was a broad convergence in all interventions made by governments, other organizations and NGOs, which showed clearly that this is not a gathering where participants look narrowly at the interest of each country. Instead, this was a meeting where delegations expressed their commitment to a common cause, that of the most vulnerable people in the world - refugees, internally displaced persons and statelessness people. I am extremely grateful for this, as I leave this meeting with a lot of energy for one more year.

Wrapping up, I will speak to you about the way forward, but also draw your attention to the things I think we should not do. We shouldn't try to invent new priorities, but instead come out of this meeting with the will to implement the priorities we have already identified. A number of them were very well defined in the Protection Dialogues of the last four years, on the asylum/migration nexus, on protracted refugee situations, urban refugees and protection gaps.

First of all, let me speak on the protection gaps in the context of today's movements of people.

There is a growing link between the movements of people forced to flee because of conflict and persecution - refugees according to the 1951 Convention and other instruments of refugee protection - and those who are forced to move for other reasons or even move just because they want a better life. It is extremely important for the international community to recognize the growing complexity of this phenomenon. Climate change, food insecurity, the links between poverty and conflict compound existing gaps in the protection regime which need to be redressed. We should not be seeking a new convention, and we are not seeking a new UNHCR mandate. But I do believe it is very important for our Ministerial Conference in December to recognise that the world is changing with new trends of displacement, to recognise that gaps do exist, and to open the way for the international community to design innovative approaches to face these challenges.

There are two protection gaps that were particularly addressed in this year's EXCOM meeting.

The first was related to age, gender and diversity, especially the protection of women and children, and most importantly the prevention of and response to sexual and gender based violence. Some progress has been made, but a lot more needs to be done, including possibly some institutional adjustments in order to be more effective in relation to SGBV.

The second gap was statelessness, and the need to enhance UNHCR's role in making sure that it will not remain a forgotten area of human rights in today's world. There was a clear commitment by States, not only many announcing the ratification of the Conventions, but also a commitment to act for giving stateless people the full range of rights and for reducing statelessness.

Speaking about another priority identified in one of our last dialogues, there was a recognition of the growing importance of urban refugee populations. It is clear that we are still not where we want to be in this regard.

We have evaluated our policy implementation in the five pilot countries this year. We need to scale up and find resources for refugee protection, assistance and solutions in the context of urban settings. This was referred to by many delegations and will occupy us during the next few years.

The third policy area that different delegations insisted on was the need to be even more effective in resolving protracted refugee situations. We had selected some of them to focus on together with member states, to address the dramatic situation of refugees who remain for decades in camps.

Some progress has already been made. The resettlement programme from Nepal has been an enormous success - more than 50,000 refugees have left, and I am grateful to countries that led this process.

Even if we are not yet being sufficiently successful with reintegration inside Afghanistan and a lot more emphasis needs to be given to this, I would like to highlight the extremely important contribution by the Governments of the Islamic Republics of Pakistan and Iran to increase the self-reliance of Afghan refugees in their countries. This will be a clear priority going forward in the preparation of next year's Stakeholder Conference for solutions for Afghan refugees.

I would also like to recall the very generous decision of the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania to grant citizenship to 162,000 Burundian refugees from 1972. There is a need for strong support by the international community for the implementation of this programme.

Another example is the agreement established between the Government of Sudan and UNHCR, working together with UNDP in the Transitional Solutions Initiative, aiming at self-reliance for refugees in eastern Sudan.

But although this policy has had an impact on our action and on the lives of people, it is also important to recognize the long way that remains to go. This must continue to be a key priority for the years to come.

Protracted refugee situations are in the very centre of the concerns expressed by all delegations and in the centre of my own concerns and those of the Office. We will be doing our best to upgrade our capacity in handling these problems in the near future.

The main problem we face with regard to solutions is that voluntary repatriation is at very low levels. Numbers were very high during two decades (an average of one million per year), but return rates have stalled due to the prolonged nature of some conflicts, with fewer returns to Afghanistan, South Sudan and DRC.

It is clear that there is no humanitarian solution to these problems. Solutions have to combine humanitarian action with political initiative and economic and social development. UNHCR's mandate is non-political, but we can sometimes play a catalytic role, mobilising other actors of the international community. A recent example is the joint strategy of four countries in the Western Balkans - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia - who have drawn up a common programme to close the chapter of displacement of the 1990s. UNHCR was catalytic in bringing people together and encouraging countries to take on the leadership of a political process that only they could assume. This proves that when there is political will, there are solutions. But some of these situations are very complex. In the context of Somalia, as we wonder what kind of catalytic role we could play to help things move forward, I will convene a high-level panel of experts to advise us on possible proposals we can make to the international community to bring the question of solutions more into the centre of developments in the Somali situation.

Secondly, there is economic and social development. We can bring people back, but if there is nothing for them to do, no services, they will not remain in their communities of origin. Without economic development, the refugees of the past will become the migrants of the future. If there is no international solidarity for economic development of countries of origin, return will not be successful.

Host communities pay a high price by supporting refugees. They need solidarity and burden-sharing in relation to their own social and economic development needs. This is why it is so important that development cooperation becomes a key instrument in the solution to refugee problems.

Within the UN system, in the context of the One UN approach, a lot of progress has been made in coordination. However, coordination between the UN system and international financial institutions is still insufficient. The coordination of multilateral and bilateral forms of cooperation also still has a long way to go.

We are enhancing our cooperation with UNDP, and now have a meaningful project with the World Bank for Somali refugees. We cooperate with several countries in development projects, but there needs to be more focus on common strategies that bring development programmes to areas of origin and local integration, to foster self-reliance of refugees and to support host communities to create space for sustainable solutions. This is an area where EXCOM members' cooperation in other fora of the international community will be of crucial support. Protracted situations must be a key concern for us all, and we must try to bring everything together to move forward.

Another area that was discussed by different delegations concerns gaps in education. Education and vocational training are key to finding solutions for refugees. We had a side event on Monday presenting the evaluation that was done on education, and a new strategy is now being prepared. We have made an important step forward in health, nutrition and water/sanitation in recent years, although much remains to be done. We now also need to make education a center piece of our strategy for solutions, namely in protracted refugee situations.

To sum up, instead of inventing new policy priorities, we should concentrate our efforts next year on protracted situations, urban refugees, and addressing protection gaps in complex movements of people, encouraging several forms of burden-sharing that are necessary to make progress.

* * *

A lot of attention from delegations was given to our own structural reform and the way we will go forward. Again, I will talk about what we should do and what we should not do.

As I said in the general debate, we have had three phases in our internal reform priority-setting. During the first, we addressed a deep problem of sustainability in UNHCR through a number of reforms such as the headquarters review, the field review, decentralisation, financial and human resources management. Most of them have been completed, and a few are still in progress.

Recognizing that reform is not an objective in itself, as soon as we had results from these initiatives, we concentrated on key targets to improve delivery in protection and emergency response. Now, benefitting from the conclusions of our Global Representatives' meeting earlier this year, we found that having focused so strongly on sustainability in the recent past by slimming headquarters and keeping the organisation thin, a certain number of gaps emerged that need to be addressed. They were outlined in the report of the Board of Auditors that many delegations mentioned. In addition to the initiatives that are in place, we will develop a framework for improving accountability, risk management, results-based management and financial and programme control. At the same time, our Representatives stressed the need to both simplify our procedures and take profit of innovation, both to benefit the people we care for and to improve our organisation.

Looking at accountability, it is important to highlight what to do and what not to do. There is a set of recommendations made by our Board of Auditors. We have accepted them and firmly intend to implement them, starting now. It is very important to create a system that allows us to have a systematic approach to mismanagement and a clear capacity to be accountable, show results, measure and evaluate them.

What we should not and will not do, is to create a bureaucratic monster to deal with these issues. We need to address some gaps in our structure, even more at the field level than at Headquarters, but we are not going to create a huge apparatus for doing this. One of the observations of the Board of Auditors was that we were unable to show the results of our change management process in a systematic way. Let me tell you, had we not done what needed to be done, you would all be able to see the negative results very clearly.

I will just give you an example.

Today, instead of 700, we would still have more than 1,000 staff in Geneva. Instead of one building we would still have two, with all the associated costs. Look at the value of the Swiss Franc and imagine where we would be.

We were able to reduce Headquarters costs from 14% to 9% in 2010. If we had done nothing, we would probably be very close to 16%, 17% or 18%. Now, if this had happened, you would all have been concerned about the situation. Therefore, to show our results we cannot do the kind of things that would again increase our Headquarters costs to levels that are unsustainable. We need to take the recommendations very seriously, but preserve our slim approach to doing business. If we don't, we might be able to show excellent results, but they would not correspond to what we do.

There are two other things that are important to recognise, related to the culture of the organisation. In UNHCR field operations, there is a culture of "let's do it", "let's move ahead", "let's respond quickly." There is not necessarily a strong culture of reporting, of showing results and even of effectively coordinating with other actors. We must strengthen our capacity to do effective RBM, with some targeted posts in reporting and in programme support. It is very important that we get better at showing what we do and coordinating with others, but this cannot be done to the detriment of the culture of "let's do it". Otherwise, we would have excellent reports but we would lose the capacity to deliver to the people we care for. This is the main objective we need to preserve.

The second cultural aspect I would like to refer to is a negative one, very common in many administrations: whenever there is a new problem, the trend is to create a new post and recruit a new person. This is not my approach. When there is a new problem or a new task, we need to see how to use our present resources to deal with it. If a new post needs to be created, then we need to look at areas where we can cancel other posts to keep our structure slim. And this requires a very important cultural change.

For example in 2009, when we changed the budget structure, there was a proposal to create 64 new posts in Headquarters. Each of them looked extremely important. We finally created two. When we became engaged with the cluster approach, the proposal was to create an internal displacement department in Headquarters with about 30 posts. I only accepted one focal point. The experts in shelter for refugees should be able to deal with shelter for internally displaced persons, and those who deal with refugee protection should be able to adapt and provide new guidelines, define new approaches in order to have a comprehensive view of protection needs involving all forms of displacement. This is a policy I intend to maintain.

Let us be accountable for doing things. Let us be able to face the challenges, but without growing a bureaucratic monster that would be unsustainable and which you would be the first to strongly criticise if we were to go in that direction.

This also relates to some of the aspects of staff management. You will remember yesterday's intervention with a certain number of observations from our Staff Council. I was in politics for thirty years; I have always worked with trade unions. The trade union movement has a key role to play in any democratic society, and also in international organisations. It is very important to maintain permanent dialogue and try to find consensus when possible.

But if you look at the philosophy behind the ideas that were presented, it is a philosophy of life-long employment in UNHCR, of using only existing UNHCR staff, recruiting as little as possible and limiting the flexible use of outside resources. Now that is exactly the kind of organisation I do not want. I want an organisation that has flexible mechanisms and that has the capacity to renew itself, to bring new blood and new ideas. Of course these need to be combined with the respect for the interests of staff and their need to have a reasonable stability. We will find a balanced solution, but we do need to go on recruiting and converting people. Gender and regional diversity must be a key aspect of our policies in that regard, and we must be able to incorporate inputs from the outside in order to be able to adapt and progress. I assure you we will take the concerns of staff fully into account. We reduced Geneva by more than 300 people and found individual solutions for everyone affected. This shows we can have flexibility and respect the interests of staff. However, we cannot make this organisation a rigid one.

The day we become rigid is the day we we lose the capacity to deliver. The day we create a bureaucratic monster is the day we will not be able to respond to the challenges we face with the resources we have. The day we lose the perspective of keeping the organization slim is the day you will no longer trust UNHCR, as neither host countries nor financial donors want to see resources diverted from helping the people we care for to the feeding which all monsters require.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Accountability is an extremely important thing. But the most relevant area of accountability, which, frankly, is something very difficult to find in the culture of any organisation, is accountability to beneficiaries. This is our main concern and biggest gap and where we still have the longest way to go. We need to recognise that we as UNHCR, as Governments, as NGOs together do not have all the solutions. We need to listen to people to know what they want.

I just came from Lisbon where I met with the Government. I had some talking points organised by our staff and by the Portuguese NGO that represents us there. And then I went to meet the refugees. Fortunately I met them before I met the Government, because their concerns were different from the talking points I had received. So I had to change what I was to tell the Government, because what the refugees wanted was different from what we had believed they wanted. And this is crucial in our work - to listen to people, to understand what they want. This is why participatory assessments and the AGDM framework are so important. They allow us to listen to the beneficiaries and to be accountable to them. We need to recognise that we are here to work for the people under our mandate, but to work for them is essentially to serve.

Thank you very much.