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Enhancement of the Format of the Executive Committee

Executive Committee Meetings

Enhancement of the Format of the Executive Committee

7 February 2000


1. On the occasion of the Executive Committee's fiftieth plenary session, both the outgoing Chairman, Ambassador Rodríguez Cedeño, and the incoming Chairman, Ambassador Pérez-Hernández y Torra considered the time had come to review some aspects of the Executive Committee's work, with a view to introducing more interactivity within its proceedings.

2. At the initiative of Ambassador Pérez-Hernández and of other members of the Executive Committee's Bureau, informal consultations took place in December 1999 and in January 2000, with the active participation of members of the Executive Committee. These discussions revealed a generally high level of satisfaction with the Committee's work, notably its governance function. It was considered that the delegation of certain tasks to the Standing Committee worked well, and that the practice of holding informal consultations on selected issues was a useful one, provided their frequency was limited to avoid placing an unfair burden on smaller delegations.

3. There was agreement, however, on the need to review the format of the Executive Committee's annual session in order to encourage more lively and interactive debates, that could also lead to more specific conclusions on policy matters, in accordance with the Committee's normative function. More specifically, it was proposed that:

  • Statements should be shorter in length, and the debate organized in such a way as to generate more meaningful discussion;
  • The agenda should be more balanced, with less time devoted to the annual theme debate, and more time to international protection and financial and administrative matters;
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be given a more active role;
  • Delegations should take advantage of the Executive Committee's annual session to help ensure ownership of UNHCR's work at the level of capitals.


4. With these objectives in view, several new features are being introduced in the planning and organization of the Committee's fifty-first plenary session. They are reflected in the attached draft programme1, presented for endorsement by the Standing Committee at its seventeenth meeting.

Annual theme debate

5. In preparation for this debate, a broad outline of the High Commissioner's opening statement will be circulated some two weeks ahead of time. This will allow delegations to take account of the main issues to be covered when preparing their own statements. The suggestion was also made that delegations should share the outlines of their own statements which could then be incorporated in a global synthesis to be made available to delegations before the opening of the session.

6. Statements by delegations during the debate will be strictly limited to five minutes, with possible extensions only in exceptional cases.

7. The annual theme debate will include a question and answer session between delegations and the High Commissioner, in the manner of the dialogue that features as part of the general debate on UNHCR's work within the General Assembly's Third Committee.

8. Finally, the Executive Committee will endeavour to reach concrete recommendations in conclusion of the annual theme debate, defining specific policy directives in line with its normative function.

Panel session

9. A panel discussion will be scheduled on the first day of the Executive Committee's session. Its subject will be linked to that of the annual theme and the High Commissioner's opening statement. Participation will be broad, possibly including representatives of other international agencies, academia, the private sector and civil society. NGOs will be among the participants and encouraged to take an active part. If feasible, refugee representatives will be invited as participants.


10. In view of the presence in Geneva during sessions of the Executive Committee of senior staff from the field, additional opportunities for briefings will be made available, using the afternoon of the last day of the session. These will supplement other briefings held in the course of the week, in parallel with the session (as in the past). Such opportunities for direct dialogue on various operations could contribute to reinforcing involvement in and support for UNHCR's programmes at the level of the capitals.


11. It is planned that these various enhancements will be introduced on a pilot basis at the fifty-first plenary session in October 2000. The Standing Committee will have the opportunity to assess their usefulness and propose, as appropriate, further adjustments for future sessions.

1 Also incorporating proposals presented by the High Commissioner to the Bureau.