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Address by Mr. Thorvald Stoltenberg, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Staff Assembly, 17 October 1990

Speeches and statements

Address by Mr. Thorvald Stoltenberg, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Staff Assembly, 17 October 1990

17 October 1990
Financial situationRestructuringStaff/Management relationsPromotionsStatus of Women in UNHCRRotationRetrenchmentExComFuture Perspectives

On this day exactly nine months ago, we had our first staff assembly. It has been a long and difficult period for the Office, but as he outcome of the recent ExCom suggest, we have together achieved quite a bit during this time. I world like to share with you today some thoughts on how I feel the past months have gone, the outcome of the recent ExCom and the direction we expect to follow in the future.

Since the beginning of the year, UNHCR has been confronted with new challenges resulting both from the peace process in certain parts of the world (eg. Central America/Nicaragua) and for the turmoil occasioned by the war-like situation in others (Liberia, Middle-East). We have had to face these responsibilities in the midst of one of the most serious financial crisis in UNHCR. That we have been able not only to survive but also to cope with such situations is due, in no small measure, to the magnificent way in which the staff has performed during this trying period marked by uncertainty and apprehension.

Financial situation

I had announced very early upon taking office the six pillars of my strategy and we have spent a good part of the first nine months of this year developing these pillars: the political tool of early warning; the efforts to promote voluntary repatriation; initiatives to promote new government and private sector funding; support from traditional donors and last, but certainly not least, better use of our existing resources. We have started moving in the right direction on these matters, and while we have made some progress on certain aspects, we are still facing a long and arduous road ahead on others.

Unfortunately, the adverse financial situation continues to overshadow our work throughout 1990. We have so far received US$ 373 m of our projected income of US$ 500m for 1990, but we still have a shortfall of US$ 50 m in our General Programmes. Donor response to some of the special programmes has also been disappointing. There is no certainty that the shortfall will be met by the end of the year. We must continue to take all possible measures for savings, and make every effort to ensure that we are fully funded. At the same time, the political developments in some parts of the world, in particular western Sahara and Cambodia, are moving at such a pace that it is essential that UNHCR be prepared to play its role in the safe return of refugees in the context of the overall political settlements. For such planning and preparation, however, considerable "up front" funds are necessary. In my speech to the ExCom I stressed at some length the crippling effect of the continuing financial crisis on UNHCR, affecting our ability as an organisation to respond to the new refugee problems unfolding around the world and which also affects the morale or the staff who find themselves unable to meet fully the immediate needs of the refugees with limited resources, let alone planning ahead.


As the better use of our existing resources is a major pillar of my strategy, one of my first tasks, upon taking up my assignment, was, as you will recall, to request an internal working group to review the role and structure of UNHCR. Upon receiving the report of that working group and the comments on it from various quarters including the staff representatives, a new structure was gradually put in place at HQ which also included the creation of the Senior Management Committee composed of the Directors of all Bureau/Division, the Directors of the liaison office in New York and senior members of my own office. The role of the Committee is to assess situations, outline policy and plans of action so as to provide a coordinated approach on all matters with which the Organisation is involved.

At the same time I am fully conscious that a great deal of work still remains to be done to ensure that the policies of Senior Management are shared with all staff, particularly those who may feel isolated in the field, and that you are all kept fully informed of the decisions and plans of action which you are expected to implement. For it is through such a process of communication and open management style that the spirit of commitment among the staff can be sustained. I hope that we will continue our dialogue in the coming months to work together to develop mechanisms for strengthening the lines of communication between senior management and the staff at large, and between Headquarters and the field, on he policies and perspectives facing UNHCR in the '90s.

Staff/Management relations

This has been a difficult, at times painful, period and I must pay tribute to the understanding and professionalism which you and your elected representatives, the Staff Council, have displayed. This has considerably helped in the development of staff-management relations. Since the beginning of the year a certain number of joint bodies were put in place after consultation with the Staff Council representatives. Three of these bodies which are of a continuous nature, the Joint Advisory Committee (JAC), the Appointment, Promotion and Posting Board (APPB) and the Appointment, Promotion and Posting Committee (APPC) are fulfilling an extremely important task in advising me on conditions of service of staff, appointments - which at this stage are minimal - promotions and postings. That advice is a major component in the decision-making process on these matters.


While on this subject I would like to express my satisfaction with the recommendations I received regarding promotions which I endorsed and which were a first and important step in redressing the imbalance both in terms of the number of staff serving in posts at grades higher than their personal grade and as regards the situation of women in the Organization.

Status of Women in UNHCR

I received in June this year the report of the Permanent Working Group on the situation of women in UNHCR. I found the report to be very thorough and thought-provoking, and I must express my thanks to the members of the Working Group for their efforts in this regard. I have read with interest the recommendations contained in the Report. These are now being examined Governments see to what extent and how they can be implemented. I intend to be guided in this respect by the administrative action taken by the Secretary-General to improve the situation of women in the United Nations. I hope that by he end of year we can share with you our response to the Report.


As regards rotation I remain committed to applying to all staff in the P and L categories a rotation policy which is fair, equitable and transparent. In this respect I have been impressed with the conscientious and serious manner in which APPB and APPC have approached their tasks on postings and rotation. It is therefore only appropriate for me to congratulate the two chairpersons of these committees, Ms CAPPELLI and Ms STEVENS.


A major undertaking this year, in the light of the financial crisis, was the staffing review to assess the optimum number of staff necessary to discharge the various activities in which the Organisation in involved, bearing in mind the unprecedented financial crisis we are facing. That review resulted in a sizeable reduction of posts and led to the retrenchment exercise. At the outset I had requested a working group to present its views, suggestions and recommendations as to the parameters of such an exercise. The working group report was reviewed by JAC. I endorsed JAC recommendations and entrusted a JAC Working Group with the arduous task of presenting recommendations on the actual set of actions to be taken.

A circular was issued in late August to inform the staff of the various aspects of the redeployment and retrenchment exercise including thee criteria to be used. I am happy to report that the first stage, which relates to voluntary separation and the granting of special leave without pay, has been completed. The JAC working group is now in the process of handling the remainder of the retrenchment plan which should result in matching the number of staff to the number of posts available. APPB and APPC will undoubtedly be involved in certain aspects of his work which should be completed by he end of the year.

I can only assure you that it is my intention to reduce to the absolute minimum the number of separations from service and in such cases to provide those affected with maximum termination benefits.


Let me now turn to he recently concluded ExCom session. Almost all the delegations praised UNHCR' for its performance this year and much of that praise was directed at UNHCR's most valuable resource: its staff. I sincerely believe that it was well deserved for without the contribution which each one of you have made it would not have been possible for UNHCR to achieve such positive results. ExCom has endorsed the 1990 and 1991 budgets as presented. I can only hope that the very king words which all the delegations had for UNHCR will be translated into deeds. We will continue to do our utmost to ensure that our programmes are adequately funded, whether from traditional or new donors.

Future Perspectives

As we come to the end of our first nine months and on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of UNHCR, I want to share with you, as I have done with ExCom, our ambitions for the future.

The first ambition is for us to seize every possibility for voluntary repatriation, which is not only the most productive use of our increasingly limited resources but also the best solution for the refugees and a concrete contribution to peace and security. I see ahead of us new opportunities for solution, fostered by the changed international climate. Movement on issues in South Africa, Mozambique, Western Sahara and Cambodia are opening up fresh possibilities for resolving some of most intractable refugees problems of the past. We, in UNHCR, must ensure that we are able and ready to seize these opportunities.

Our second ambition is to promote a policy which will ensure asylum for refugees, not only today but also n the future. However, in order to secure asylum and protection of the refugees, we must be prepared to press the international community to address the much larger issue of migratory flows through more effective economic and development policies.

Our third ambition is to have the refugee and migrant issues placed on the international political agenda. It is only when the problems of poverty, oppression, conflict and the consequent refugee and migratory movements, are seen as important factors in the search of peace and security, that we can effectively begin to resolve them.

In conclusion, during my visits to the field and in my contacts with you in daily world at Headquarters, I have been impressed with the devotion and enthusiasm of the staff. I know that first and foremost in your minds is the plight of those unfortunate 15 million refugees. In sharing our vision of the future and the way in which we must confront these challenges, I am convinced that we can move forward together with vigour and commitment towards these goals and through our work help to create a safer world.