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Closing Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-fourth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 3 October 2003

Speeches and statements

Closing Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-fourth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 3 October 2003

3 October 2003

(Check against delivery)

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I regret that I was unable to be here throughout the week. I have, however, read many of the statements and have been thoroughly briefed on your various interventions. I would like to thank all of you for your participation. I have benefited greatly from your insightful comments and useful suggestions. I would also like to once again thank NGOs for their positive contributions during the Pre-ExCom meeting, as well as during this Session.

The many encouraging statements you have made this week have renewed my conviction that UNHCR is on the right path. I welcome the adoption of the conclusion on the outcome of the UNHCR 2004 process, and I count on the support of your Governments when the report is discussed in the General Assembly next month.

One of the outcomes of the UNHCR 2004 process is the recognition that the time limitation on UNHCR's mandate is anachronistic and no longer reflects today's realities. As Australia mentioned, however, the proposal to remove the time limitation should not be viewed as an admission that the international community is helpless in preventing refugee situations and finding solutions. On the contrary, it should be seen as a way of strengthening the multilateral approach to managing global challenges relating to refugees, returnees, internally displaced persons, those affected by statelessness and other persons of concern. I am confident that the removal of the time limitation will translate into a stronger commitment from States to UNHCR's mandate, thus leading to improved standards of care and protection and opening up more opportunities for finding durable solutions.

I am grateful for your support of the proposals on enhancing linkages between UNHCR and others in the United Nations system. As it was observed, it is important that UNHCR has a place at the table when issues are discussed that have an impact on the welfare of refugees. Indeed, UNHCR can play an important catalytic role in promoting activities aimed at finding solutions and ensuring secure environments for refugees, returnees and other persons of concern. We will continue to work closely with our partners on this. As Jan Egeland, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, noted in his statement, humanitarian agencies should collectively forge a stronger "common humanitarian agenda".

As a number of you noted, good coordination is key. But coordination should not be an end in itself. It must lead to tangible results. I agree with the comment that without proper coordination, everybody's mandate may turn out to be nobody's mandate. This risk is particularly acute when it comes to meeting the needs of the internally displaced. The "collaborative approach" is the approach that we have all agreed to, but it is not working as well as it we would like it to. As one delegation noted, many internally displaced people are left without any form of protection or assistance, and in practice the "collaborative approach" is often more whimsical than predictable. We must do more to ensure greater predictability in the UN response, and an enhanced overall capacity.

Concerning the proposals on funding in the UNHCR 2004 report, I welcome the support expressed by many of you for an increase in UNHCR's share of the United Nations Regular Budget, in line with UNHCR's Statute. I appreciate the willingness expressed by some of you - such as France - to pursue this in the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly. On the 30% Base Level model, it is now up to States to decide how far they wish to use this.

On the issue of governance, I have heard your support for the idea of convening of a ministerial meeting every five years. I consider your call for a strategic review of the Office every ten years as a confirmation that periodic in-depth reviews, such as that undertaken by the UNHCR 2004 process, are indeed useful. In the meantime, I look forward to further consultations on enhancing the work of the Executive Committee and the Standing Committee. I am confident that under the Chairmanship of Ambassador Boulgaris, ways can be found to develop and improve the work of this Committee.

Many of you reaffirmed the enduring value of the existing refugee protection regime, with the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol at its core. At the same time, you expressed strong support for Convention Plus initiatives aimed at strengthening and complementing this regime through special agreements, to enhance burden sharing and to sharpen the focus on achieving durable solutions. I am grateful for the commitments made to contribute to the further development of this initiative, and particularly to the initiatives outlined in the Framework for Durable Solutions.

Many of you emphasized the importance of Convention Plus in addressing protracted refugee situations. Others pointed out that this initiative can be useful in developing comprehensive approaches to new refugee situations. Recognizing that refugees are often the poorest of the poor, Norway also rightly stressed the importance of continuing to focus on meeting the Millennium Development Goals and of donor countries living up to the pledges made at the Monterrey Conference.

A number of you highlighted the increasing dangers to which humanitarian personnel are being exposed, particularly in light of the attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August. You drew attention to numerous attacks on humanitarian personnel in the last year, which have led to the deaths of a number of colleagues, not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Together with UNSECOORD and others in the UN system, and in close consultation with other partners, we will be making every effort to review and strengthen our security procedures. On a separate note, I would like to join others who have expressed outrage at the continued detention of the MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] staff member, Arjan Erkel, who was abducted in Daghestan over a year ago. We know he is alive, but he remains in captivity. We must do more, both individually and collectively, to obtain his immediate release.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was encouraged by the support that was expressed for the Agenda for Protection, which has clearly gained momentum over the last year. States are finding it useful. Indeed, implementation of the Agenda is increasingly being seen as a shared responsibility between States, UNHCR, NGOs and other partners.

I have noted all the remarks on the importance of ensuring adequate levels of protection staff in the field, particularly when it comes to ensuring physical protection and addressing the problem of sexual and gender based violence. We will continue our efforts to increase the number of protection staff in the field and we will further strengthen our operational partnerships with NGOs in the area of protection.

Some of you expressed reservations about structural changes that we have made affecting the positions of our Coordinators for Refugee Women and Refugee Children. Many, though, were supportive of our efforts to mainstream age and gender sensitivity. Ultimately, the needs of women and children must be prioritized in all UNHCR operations. The question is how we get there. We have made some progress, but we are still not there. We have to do more, step by step. We will keep you informed on developments.

Many of you expressed support for the progress that UNHCR has made in developing more effective registration systems. A number of you also welcomed our efforts to promote greater use of resettlement, not only as a protection tool but also as a durable solution. I appreciate the continuing generosity of resettlement countries, particularly the United States which - in spite of new security hurdles since 11 September 2001 - continues to admit more resettled refugees than the rest of the world put together.

Many of you expressed support for capacity-building initiatives, particularly in countries in refugees' regions of origin. Others warned, rightly, that such initiatives should not lead to or become an excuse for "burden-shifting". As was emphasized by Erika Feller during the discussion on international protection, our goal is to ensure that effective protection is available to all refugees, everywhere. Ensuring that refugees are protected and that solutions are found, is an obligation and not a choice.

As was mentioned by a number of you, all too often States - including members of this Executive Committee - fail to live up to their pledges to protect people fleeing violence and persecution. Indeed, I remain deeply concerned about the trend amongst Governments in the world today of increasingly trying to shield their populations against "foreigners". We talk about globalization, but the reality is that there is far too much anti-foreigner sentiment. In many countries, refugees and asylum seekers are vilified by both politicians and the media almost as a matter of routine. While efforts to improve the efficiency and credibility of asylum systems must continue, we must guard against overly restrictive procedures and practices that are not consistent with international refugee law. What we need are more positive and objective portrayals of refugees and asylum seekers, more effective protection, a greater focus on achieving durable solutions, more constructive approaches to tackling the migration-asylum nexus, and a greater commitment to multilateralism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In his statement on Monday, Jan Egeland called for a renewed focus on the world's "forgotten emergencies". I can only add my voice to his. We cannot afford to be complacent. We must continue to focus on finding solutions for those in protracted refugee situations.

In my opening statement, I gave the example of the camps of Bhutanese people in Nepal. These camps have been in existence for more than ten years now. In all this time, little progress has been made in finding durable solutions. I was encouraged to hear in the statements by Bhutan and Nepal that high level meetings on this issue have taken place in recent weeks between these two countries, and that more such meetings are scheduled for later this month. I hope that this new momentum towards resolving the situation will be sustained. The objective must be: solutions, solutions, solutions.

Concerning the role that UNHCR is willing to play in this process, I can only refer you back to my opening statement. This is not the time and place for me to respond to the remarks made by the Ambassador of India - the country through which these people transited on their way to Nepal.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Protecting refugees and finding durable solutions is the core of our work. But all this requires funding. For 2003, we still face a funding gap of some US$ 50 million. I count on you to help us to fill this gap.

For 2004, I am pleased to see that you have approved the budget I presented for $ 955 million. This is an enormous amount, owing to the fact that our financial rules - and the ACABQ - require us to mainstream our Supplementary Programmes into the Annual Programme Budget. I am aware that this may cause difficulties to donors who have traditionally used different budget lines for these two types of contributions. I count on you to find ways to overcome this hurdle, since possibilities still exist for earmarking of some of the funds contributed to the Annual Budget.

I look forward to more concrete responses from donors at the pledging conference on 8 December, both on contributions that will be available at the beginning of 2004 and on indications of the overall level of contributions to be made available during the year.

I noted the statement by Italy that European Union countries - together with the European Commission - collectively constitute UNHCR's largest donor. The Commission itself is the largest of the European donors, and I fully support the suggestion that it be accorded an enhanced status in the Executive Committee. I hope that as the European Union enlarges to include ten new members, we will see a corresponding further increase in the Commission's contribution to UNHCR. We would also like to see the European Commission have a greater role in our policy-making process. All of this is about achieving greater co-ownership of UNHCR.

The United States remains UNHCR's biggest single donor, and I greatly appreciate the generous contribution that it has made to UNHCR this year - its highest contribution ever in terms of dollars. I am also grateful to Japan, the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, and our other key donors for their continued support. I would also like to specifically acknowledge Canada, Germany and Italy amongst those donors who have made significantly increased contributions over the period 2001 to 2003. I am also grateful to those donors who, either in their formal statements or in bilateral consultations, have indicated that they will be increasing their contributions to UNHCR next year.

At present, UNHCR's eight largest donors continue to provide over 80% of our funds. As some of you mentioned, UNHCR's continued reliance on a small group of donors for the majority of its funding is unhealthy and unsustainable. It is also clearly contrary to my aim of strengthening the Office's multilateral character. We must change this, and I count on you to help us to make this possible.

Our challenge now is to find ways of continuing to expand our donor base and to ensure that other donors also increase their contributions. I have been particularly encouraged by the substantive contributions received in 2003 from the Russian Federation and Kuwait, and I would also like to welcome Botswana to our list of new donors. I hope next year we will see a further broadening our funding base with more new cash donors.

A number of you made calls for the Executive Committee to be given more opportunity to review and examine budgetary and management issues. We will look into ways of achieving this. This year we prepared a much more detailed budget document than in previous years and managed to submit it earlier than in the past. We will try to make further improvements in this respect in the spirit of transparency, openness and accountability. We will also try to involve Executive Committee members more in discussions on financial management, to ensure greater "co-ownership".

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before ending, allow me to use this opportunity to pay tribute to my friend, Ambassador Molander, who will be leaving Geneva shortly to return to Sweden. Ambassador Molander has been extremely supportive to UNHCR, not only during his time as Chairman of the Executive Committee, but throughout his time here. We have benefited greatly from his dynamic approach and constructive manner, and we will certainly miss him. On behalf of everyone in UNHCR, I would like to thank him for all his support.

Finally, I was pleased to see that so many of you paid tribute to Mary Ann Wyrsch for the enormous contribution that she has made to the work of UNHCR over the last three years as Deputy High Commissioner. Once again, I would like to thank her - this time with flowers!

Thank you.