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Talking Points for the Closing Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-third Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 4 October 2002

Speeches and statements

Talking Points for the Closing Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-third Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 4 October 2002

4 October 2002
Agenda for ProtectionConvention PlusForumExComUNHCR 2004PartnershipsDurable solutionsFundingHand-over from Pirkko Kourula to Mirza Hussain Khan

(Check against delivery)

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank all of you for the many positive contributions you have made.

Agenda for Protection

I am delighted that this Executive Committee has endorsed the Agenda for Protection. This is an important document for all of us. Together with the Declaration of States Parties adopted at last year's Ministerial Meeting, the Agenda is the tangible outcome of the Global Consultations process.

Your endorsement of the Agenda for Protection brings the two year process of Global Consultations on International Protection to a close. I would like to thank all of you for the constructive manner in which you have contributed to this process. In particular, I thank Erika Feller for the way in which she has guided this process to its successful conclusion.

We now need to use the Agenda both to guide the action of UNHCR and as a vehicle to promote co-operation between States in tackling refugee protection today. The Agenda points the way forward.

I am encouraged by your commitment to ensure the effective implementation of the Agenda.

Convention Plus

I welcome your positive feedback on this new approach. At the same time, many of you have asked for further clarification.

The 1951 Convention with its 1967 Protocol is the foundation for the international protection of refugees. However, it has become evident that there are areas that the Convention does not adequately cover, where multilateral efforts are needed. We therefore need to develop new tools to complement and strengthen the 1951 Convention and its Protocol, especially in the areas of burden sharing, responsibility sharing, and achieving durable solutions.

In her statement on Wednesday, Erika Feller pointed out that while the Convention is clear in terms of rights, it is close to silent about whose responsibility it is to protect these rights and to provide solutions in the context of modern displacement situations. As she mentioned, the key to ensuring protection for those who genuinely need it lies in the development of new tools to better apportion responsibilities. The essence of the "Convention Plus" approach is therefore about developing special agreements to promote fair burden sharing and achieve durable solutions; this will help to reduce secondary movements.

In my Opening Statement on Monday, I specifically mentioned possible special agreements. In your interventions, two additional possibilities were added; one possibility was that of additional debt relief for major refugee hosting countries; another possibility was that countries with managed migration programmes reserve a percentage of that quota (for example 10%) for resettlement of refugees.


Many of you have welcomed the suggestion to create a Forum. We have circulated a Non-Paper providing details of what I have in mind, so I will limit myself to a few comments:

The Forum will consist of experts. It will aim to develop new tools to complement the Convention, particularly special agreements between States.

Many of you have expressed concern that the Forum should not diminish ExCom's current functions. I can assure you that it will certainly not do this. As Erika Feller mentioned in her statement, the Forum is not about introducing new layers of governance. It is not about moving protection away from ExCom. And it is certainly not about replacing ownership of the agenda. ExCom will remain the forum for providing overall advice and guidance on protection issues.

We will come back to you with a formal paper on the Forum, taking into consideration the comments you have made. This morning, Erika Feller held a briefing on the Agenda for Protection and the Forum. She invited you to come forward with further suggestions on the Forum and the special agreements.


This year we welcomed four new members to ExCom, bringing the total number to 61 states. I have been informed that there are other applications pending. The NGO community has also been well represented this year, as have regional organizations. Next year, key sub-regional organizations will also join us. We are clearly on the path towards greater multilateralism. I welcome these as significant steps towards achieving the vision that I am developing through the UNHCR 2004 process.

I hope that the European Commission will gain enhanced status at ExCom in the future. I would certainly like to see it have greater involvement in UNHCR's governance. An enhanced status for the European Commission at ExCom would be consistent with its status in other UN bodies.

UNHCR 2004

In my Opening Statement I outlined the broad contours of the UNHCR 2004 process, particularly in relation to governance, funding and UNHCR's position in the UN system. You echoed my call to look into ways of strengthening UNHCR as a multilateral organization. There were indications that the UNHCR 2004 process is on the right track. These comments are encouraging. I look forward to consulting you further on this early next year.


Some of you pointed out that a number of tasks of significance for the well-being of refugees and returnees exceed the scope of UNHCR's resources. This is one reason that, as I mentioned in my Opening Statement, partnerships are essential. My colleague, Carol Bellamy of UNICEF, also stressed this point in her remarks on Monday.

The NGO Pre-ExCom meeting last week was lively and constructive. I was particularly encouraged by the strong message of support to UNHCR from the NGO community, calling on States to ensure that sufficient financial resources are provided to UNHCR to enable it to fulfil its mandate.

I welcome the emphasis that many of you have put on the need for UNHCR to further strengthen its partnerships with agencies such as the World Bank, UNDP, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the ILO and IOM; also with traditional partners such as ICRC, UNICEF and WFP, as well as with OCHA and NGOs.

I would also like to emphasize once again the importance of strengthening UNHCR's partnerships with organizations such as the League of Arab States and the African Union. The excellent panel discussion on NEPAD on Wednesday drew attention to the need for partnerships to achieve durable solutions for refugees. I was encouraged by the strong words of support of many African delegations and representatives from a number of G8 countries. For NEPAD to be successful, a strong partnership of African and non-African countries is vital. This is really about peace and development in Africa, and generous funding to achieve this; linking development assistance to less forced migration, less poverty, fewer refugees remaining idle in refugee camps, fewer child soldiers, and fewer vulnerable people.

We have fully clarified what we do for IDPs in our Annual Programmes and Supplementary Programmes. It is now up to other agencies, and in particular OCHA, to let us know their insights.

Durable solutions

I welcome your support for a continued emphasis on achieving durable solutions. I also welcome your strong support for the concepts of 4Rs and DLI.

Voluntary repatriation: Afghanistan has demonstrated clearly the ongoing problem of the gap between relief and development. We must continue to look for innovative ways of addressing this issue, both through better partnerships and through better funding arrangements. As many of you pointed out, repatriation must be followed up by effective reintegration programmes if we are to prevent today's returnees from becoming tomorrow's refugees. In post-conflict situations, the early involvement of development actors during the transition phase is essential, so that we can plan and implement programmes together.

Local integration: Some of you have highlighted obstacles to local integration. You have also emphasized the importance of addressing the root causes of refugee flows, including armed conflict and extreme poverty. Still, self-reliance and empowerment of refugees is important. I would like to stress here that no sustainable local integration is possible without the consent of host governments and host communities. To reduce the burden on host countries, the international community should consider allocating more development funds to refugee hosting areas. This will help diminish the burden on the local community, contribute to the local development, and broaden the prospects for refugees' integration. By allowing them to become self-reliant, refugees can be an asset, and not a burden. As a number of you mentioned, the Zambian initiative has become a good model for local integration programmes. I hope that other equally innovative approaches will be developed in other parts of the world, and that they will also be generously funded.

Resettlement: I welcome your support for greater focus on resettlement, not only as a tool of protection but also as a durable solution. I also welcome the calls some of you made for additional countries to provide resettlement opportunities. Good registration and status determination will remain vital for the success of resettlement programmes.


Some of you mentioned the disparity between what Western countries spend on processing their own refugee and asylum systems and what they contribute to refugee programmes in places like Africa. This is an ongoing problem, which needs to be addressed - for example, through the "Convention Plus" approach.

With regard to the funding of UNHCR's budget, I find myself in a difficult and frustrating situation. Indeed, I sometimes feel that more energy is put into managing the shortfalls than managing the budget itself.

Over the last year, we have made strenuous efforts to prioritize our activities and to ensure maximum efficiency and cost effectiveness. However, the needs remain great, and we are still not receiving the necessary funding to meet those needs. Members of this Committee are continually urging us to raise standards in refugee camps, to invest more in particular activities, and to take on new ones. You are constantly calling on us to increase our presence in field locations, and particularly to increase our protection staff. But how can we do this when the overall level of funding is not sufficiently going up?

One delegation here mentioned that "provision of the highest achievable standards of education should be a fundamental dimension of protection". These are fine words. And I agree with them. But where is the funding for this?

UNHCR's overall budget for 2002 comes to a total of US$ 1,030 million, of which US$ 202 million is for Supplementary Programmes. This means that the overall budget has grown by some 20% compared with 2001. This increase is of course largely due to the Afghan operation.

The UNHCR operation in Afghanistan has been much praised in the past few days. It has indeed been a remarkable achievement, and once again I would like to thank donors for their support. But I have to state also that while our overall budget is higher than last year's, our overall funding lags behind. I cannot but conclude, therefore, that to a certain extent contributions to the Afghan operation programme are at the expense of our operations under the Annual Programme Budget.

This year some donors exceeded their 2001 contributions, and I commend them for it. However, other donors did not exceed their 2001 contributions, even if one includes their contributions towards the Afghan operation. Some are even indicating that their overall contributions this year may be lower than last year. This has happened in spite of assurances of some donors that contributions to the Afghan operation would be "additional" to the normal contributions.

I find it difficult to explain to African governments, in particular, why their refugees should receive much lower levels of assistance than Afghan refugees. In this respect, I also draw your attention to the letter that the UN Secretary-General sent to a number of Heads of State requesting their support in addressing UNHCR's funding shortfalls, particularly in Africa.

Yesterday you adopted a budget of US$ 837 million for 2003. I thank you for adopting this budget. I hope that you will make it your collective responsibility to ensure that this budget is fully funded. This should not be my responsibility alone.

Hand-over from Pirkko Kourula to Mirza Hussain Khan

I would like to thank Pirkko Kourula for her many years of dedication to the work of this Committee. Since becoming Secretary in 1997, she has worked with five successive Chairmen and Bureaux, and has successfully managed an extremely complex process. I have benefited from her counsel and broad experience over the past two sessions. However, as the UNHCR 2004 process under my direction gathers momentum, Pirkko will be required to give all her attention to its completion. Therefore, in consultation with the Chairman, I have designated Mirza Hussain Khan, the Head of the Secretariat and Inter-Organization Service, as Secretary of ExCom, as from the beginning of next year. I am confident he will prove a worthy successor to Pirkko.

Thank you.