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Closing Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-second Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 5 October 2001

Speeches and statements

Closing Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-second Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 5 October 2001

5 October 2001
Angelina Jolie

Mr. Chairman,

Allow me to begin by thanking you, as this will be my last opportunity in this meeting to do so. And let me extend words of thanks at the end of this very rich meeting to the Secretariat and the Bureau. So many made this meeting of the Executive Committee a success, and for me it was a very rewarding experience. The panel discussions were, in my opinion, also very rich.

This year there was no single theme for the meeting. I feel somewhat guilty about that. Both in my address at the beginning and in the panel discussions, which were well chosen, I think, in terms of broadening support, we see very much the partnership concept. We reserved time to brief you about our inspection activities. Our difficult experiences in Nairobi provided a good reason to do so. We are learning our lessons, as it were. There was also a discussion about protracted refugee situations. You will understand that this is a subject which is very close to my heart. Special attention was also given to the protection of refugee women and, more importantly, to the role of women in empowerment of people and in prevention. I think the panels, in that sense, were very relevant for all of us in this meeting.

We also had a report on the Pre-ExCom NGO meeting that took place last week. It must have struck you as it struck me, that NGOs who are normally very critical are also aware of the necessity of UNHCR as an institution. I made that point in my statement to the NGO meeting. I told them that it is good to be critical but that they should also go for a strong UNHCR. They said they will do. It was very fair, and they echoed that here too.

Mr. Chairman, in my opening address, I said a few things about the human resources aspect within UNHCR. I am delighted to work with you and for you as High Commissioner. I would like once again to thank Søren Jessen-Petersen, and to thank you for your many expressions of thanks to him. It is clear that for many years he personified UNHCR, especially when we talk about operations. Kamel Morjane is replacing him and I am very grateful. It was Søren Jessen-Petersen himself who stood at the beginning of the process of that change and it has ended successfully. I also have a new Deputy High Commissioner. Many of you have met her already, and you saw her here on the podium. I also appointed a new Controller, Gunilla Hesselmark. You will no doubt be hearing more from her. Although there has been some criticism concerning the lack of gender balance within the organisation, these appointments show that I am taking steps to address this issue. You also saw Maureen Connelly as Inspector General.

I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that I had hoped that John Horekens, Director of DCI, would continue. He has been with us for many years, and is well known to many of you. But he has come to the conclusion that he wants to leave. I have told him that he should stay, because I think he did an excellent job for many years, and frankly speaking I would have hoped that he would continue. But he said to me that after many good years with UNHCR, he feels that the time has come to rotate within the humanitarian family. I do not have the liberty to tell you where he is going, but he will be moving to a good job elsewhere and will continue his efforts there. So, I wanted to inform you that I will be appointing a new Director of DCI.

As you can see, there have been many changes in these first nine months. I have come to the conclusion that it was worthwhile in terms of new staff coming in and people rotating. Now the team is in place, and we simply have to achieve results. Then, in my Opening Statement, I flagged a number of specific challenges, and it was very gratifying to hear your reactions. Let me go very quickly through a number of them.

I mentioned the importance of durable solutions - protection and solutions. Without solutions there is no real protection. It is all about protection of refugees and uprooted people. But there is one additional dimension. There is also the dimension that it is an investment in peace and stability. For without durable solutions, refugees are not only deprived of their dignity, but are highly vulnerable to exploitation by criminal networks. They can easily fuel conflict by adding to existing social tensions. Therefore, we must go this way forward with concrete measures to prevent refugees from fuelling conflict and crime. UNHCR is there to protect against violence and persecution. UNHCR has also become a main instrument to resist growing criminal networks. In other words, good global governance in relation to refugees, going for durable solutions, repatriation, people going home, local integration and resettlement will prevent degradation in protracted refugee situations and people illegally on the move fuelling crime. This was one basic theme, and you responded to that in a very positive way.

At this moment, the highlight is very much on terrorism, and the war against terrorism - understandably and rightly so. But we must ensure that this global fight against terrorism does not weaken the refugee protection regime in other ways. To give an example, resettlement countries should maintain their programmes at the promised levels and not reduce them in the light of the recent terrorist attacks. Particularly for specific ethnic groups, it would be very painful if that were to happen. So we should not do it. I think you can all play a role in convincing governments of the need to ensure that the Refugee Convention is not misrepresented as an instrument that provides a safe-haven for terrorists.

As was pointed out by the Director of the Department of International Protection, Erika Feller, the Convention when properly applied does not offer safe-haven to criminals. It does not provide protection to terrorists, nor does it extend any immunity from prosecution to those engaged in terrorist activities. On the contrary it is carefully framed to exclude persons who have committed particularly serious offences. This is clearly echoed in UN Security Council Resolution 1373 of 28th September, which calls on States to work together. While it is important to take the necessary steps to avoid abuse of the asylum channel, I would like to stress once again that no unwarranted linkages should be made between refugees and terrorists, and between refugees and crime. This is another important challenge for all of us.

Concerning the Afghan crisis, I would like to say a few words about the Broad Forum starting today in Geneva. It will be attended by some twenty countries, including - amongst others - countries that are part of the Afghan Support Group and host countries. It aims to develop a good strategy for the Afghans. Let their problem be our problem. Let us address the problem with generosity and burden-sharing. It is to overcome the misery together, rather than giving in to the continuing misery. This emergency is man-made, and it has to be ended by concerted action. And of course I hope that the meeting will be instrumental in raising funds for the UNHCR appeal for the Afghan situation and of course for the wider UN appeal which is known to you.

Let me then turn to the question of funding. It was a good experience listening to you. It is clear that you share my concerns, wanting UNHCR to have a sound financial base. However, this positive approach has to be translated into practice. First there are the promised contributions for the remainder of this year. As I mentioned before, this amounts to some US$ 100 million. It is very important for us that this is specified in the coming weeks and months. Even then we will still have a shortfall; we can simply not afford more. And there is a relation with the hopefully generous response to the Afghan situation. It should not exclude responsibility for other refugees with equally important needs. We cannot afford to let any of the present refugee situations be forgotten. So that is what I am basically talking about: US$ 100 million still to be made available.

One word about the "soft commitments". This is a new initiative. I think the response, at least in terms of understanding, is good. Your responses have given us a better knowledge of our funding situation than we have usually had during meetings of the Executive Committee. Normally it would take us many more months. So this is good. At the same time, the level of the "soft commitments" has given me only "soft comfort". We still need extra efforts. I would like to repeat what I said at the beginning, that I hope no donor will reduce the level of funding in comparison with 2000-2001. On the contrary, I hope that many will increase their contributions to come gradually nearer to the level of one dollar or one Euro per citizen.

During the summer at the Standing Committee meeting, I promised I would look into the budget for 2002, which is US$ 828 million, to see if it is sufficiently funded. Looking at it now, my answer has to be "no". At this moment it is not sufficiently funded. It is fair, however, to give you some more information. There is a gap of at least 10% at this moment - perhaps 10-15%. A gap of 10% is not a drama. Historically we have seen that there are always reasons that during the year some elements of programmes cannot be implemented. But we cannot fall below this figure. If the funding is less than 90%, then inevitably this will affect performance and the quality of our work. Therefore, an additional effort is needed.

Here, I would like to refer again to the good report we had of the Evaluation Unit, and the interventions made here about performance and quality of work. Many of your interventions focused on this. I am grateful that many of you said that we are gradually doing better, even though we have to improve further. But it is just not "do-able" to have a war on two fronts at the same time; to go for performance and quality while being under-funded. This is not "do-able". So we are still in a critical zone, and the cash-donor countries have a big responsibility. Many countries, including host countries and resettlement countries, make enormous efforts, and I am grateful for that. But we need a sound financial base for UNHCR. NGOs are starting to understand that. I hope that governments will also understand that and give us sufficient funding.

On a more positive note, I recently made another important decision, appointing a Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie. I was apprehensive when I first had the idea of appointing a 26 year old film actress as a Goodwill Ambassador. I said to myself that I am here to protect refugees, so what does this have to do with movie actresses? But I have to confess that this is a very rewarding experience. She travels the world visiting refugee camps. We see the reactions, especially in the United States. She helps to raise awareness and to put refugees on the map. And she has made extremely generous donations to UNHCR. This week she donated US$ 1 million for the Afghan crisis, and this seems to have attracted other people. In the last few days we received another US$ 1 million from a few other private donors. I hope that next year I will be able to say a few more words about the relationship between UNHCR and the corporate world.

Mr. Chairman, a few remaining points before I end. Concerning the Global Consultations, it was very encouraging to see the progress that is being made. To give just one example, the Ambassador of India said that the evolving Agenda for Protection and the draft Ministerial Declaration reflect very much "India's view on the way forward". We are indeed developing a comprehensive and inclusive agenda and I am grateful for all the contributions to that.

Finally, a few words about HIV/AIDS. I did not speak about this in my opening address, but it is good for you to know that we work in close partnership with UNAIDS. Why? On the one hand, HIV/AIDS is very visible in refugee camps, refugee populations, and other vulnerable populations. So from this perspective, refugees are a sizeable high risk group. In the field, however, it is different. There is also the positive side that because of our work, in terms of health, in practice HIV/AIDS in refugee camps and refugee concentrations where we are connected with them is not a taboo. And that is the beginning of the solution. There are health programmes and medical staff working with us there, and they help in the battle against HIV/AIDS. I do not exclude the possibility that we will be able to develop effective programmes rather successfully for these vulnerable groups. This is also the opinion of UNAIDS. So we may come back to this subject at a later stage. It is good that you know that and I consider this a very important matter.

Mr. Chairman, let me simply end with five points that I pencilled down just before this meeting. First, protection is no protection if there are no solutions. Second, respect for refugees, and challenging those who discriminate against them. Third, a reasonably funded UNHCR, for which partnership and performance are the way forward. Fourth, an Agenda for Protection, as part of efforts to provide the basis for a truly multilateral organisation, with world-wide burden sharing, to ensure good governance in relation to refugees. Fifth - and all these points lead to this - to promote peace and to push back and resist crime and violence.

Thank you.