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End of year Statement to staff by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, 14 December 1994

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End of year Statement to staff by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, 14 December 1994

14 December 1994

As 1994 draws to an end, I would like to update you on recent developments and share some thoughts on the challenges which lie ahead in the New Year.

Last month I was in New York to present UNHCR's annual report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly. Delegation after delegation paid warm tribute to UNHCR's "courageous staff", as they put it. The governments at the annual session of our Executive Committee in October were equally unstinting in their praise of the work which all of you are doing around the world. Let me add my own tribute to the brave men and women of UNHCR who take enormous risks, under dangerous, difficult, often frustrating conditions to save the lives of others, sometimes at the cost of their own, as happened most recently in Burundi and Bosnia. I worry a great deal about staff security.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels but must go on as ethnic conflicts and resurgent violence uproot people and political instability and economic uncertainty complicate the search for solutions.

When I last wrote to you in July, hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees were flooding into eastern Zaire. Today, there are more than two million refugees, returnees, and internally displaced persons in the Great Lakes region. The situation is still very tense in Rwanda and also in Burundi, threatening fresh outflows and hampering returns. As requested by the UN General Assembly, we are organizing a regional refugee conference with OAU early next year which I hope will not only be assistance-focused but also solution-oriented. Following his appointment as my Special Envoy in early 1994, Michel Moussalli undertook extensive consultations with regional governments, for which I am very grateful. Mr. Moussalli having been appointed as Head of Civil Affairs of UNPROFOR, the baton has passed to Carrol Faubert, former UNHCR representative in Nairobi and recently Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia. As my Special Envoy for the Rwanda/Burundi crisis, Mr. Faubert will coordinate and direct the operation in th five countries.

Some of you must be as disappointed as myself to see the prospects in Bosnia and Herzegovina dashed once again by the increased fighting. Although our operation has been severely affected, thanks to the prepositioned goods in our warehouses and the distribution of seeds in spring and autumn, people in central Bosnia will not be as dependent on international assistance as last winter. But I fear greatly for those in Sarajevo, Bihac and other enclaves.

Unlike Bosnia and Rwanda, Afghanistan has slipped off the newspaper headlines but the plight of the besieged in Kabul is no less desperate. Just recently, together with our UN colleagues, we managed to bring in the first convoy of food and relief goods. We will be revitalizing our presence and activities inside Afghanistan in the coming months. We cannot abandon the returnees, nor give up our search for solutions.

Further east in the former Soviet Union, our involvement is expanding, from protection and emergency management training activities to protecting and assisting the internally displaced in the Caucasus and monitoring the human rights of returnees in Tajikistan. Given the risks of displacement, it is imperative and urgent that we mobilize interested governments and organizations in the region and outside on a preventive strategy. The regional conference which we are organizing in late 1995 should be our vehicle for that.

Against this background of escalating problems, the voluntary repatriation of 1.5 million Mozambican refugees from six neighbouring countries has been a welcome spark of hope. Our colleagues in southern Africa and the Bureau deserve full credit for a job well done. Operations in central America are also declining (although Guatemala which the Deputy High Commissioner visited last week remains unsolved), and in Haiti international action to restore President Aristide has brought an early solution for the refugees. In Asia too, repatriation to Myanmar has accelerated, and we plan to close the camps in Bangladesh by the end of next year. Speaking of camp closure, I do not think we can justify the Vietnamese camps in southeast Asia much longer and must make every effort to end the CPA by 1996.

Whether in the context of erupting crises or emerging solutions, the essence of our humanitarian challenge is protecting the basic human rights and well-being of refugees, returnees and the internally displaced.

Possibly our most severe protection problem today is in eastern Zaire where the host government simply does not have the capacity to protect the refugees against threats from former Rwandese soldiers and militia. We are trying our best to assure the safety of refugees and our own staff through better food delivery and security systems. I recognize the moral dilemma which this particular camp population presents but we do not have the choice of withdrawal as long as the refugees - particularly the elderly, women and children - need our help.

The Rwanda situation is yet another example of the threat which the proliferation of anti-personnel mines and small arms pose to security and stability. Unless the international community is willing to do something about weapons control, I am afraid our task of protection will get more difficult.

Despite the progress on temporary protection and growing awareness on the internally displaced, an enormous gap remains between the few who are protected by existing instruments and institutions and the vast majority who are in need of protection but do not receive it. I know that Dennis McNamara, the new Director of International Protection and his staff are trying - conceptually and practically - to bridge the "protection gap". They will no doubt draw the lessons of regional protection from the OAU Convention and the Cartagena Declaration (which marked their twenty-fifth and tenth anniversaries this year respectively).

Some delegations at ExCom and the Third Committee of the General Assembly highlighted another category in need of protection - the stateless. It will be on the agenda of the ExCom Sub-Committee for International Protection next year.

As asylum becomes harder to obtain or sustain, the pressure grows to find solutions in the country of origin. "Safe areas", "safety zones" and "safe havens" are being talked about, as means of promoting returns and/or protecting the internally displaced in conflict-ridden countries. I have asked the Division of International Protection to examine these concepts and develop a UNHCR position in conformity with our mandate.

The ultimate objective of protection is to find solutions. The next edition of the State of the World's Refugees, due for publication in October 1995, will focus on the challenge of solutions. Obviously, the success of solutions depends, not on how fast we can repatriate people and close camps, but how safely and effectively they can reintegrated at home. Thus, I place great importance on our presence and assistance in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

Of course, as we are discovering in Tajikistan, we cannot stay forever. This is where human rights monitors could be very useful. Human rights monitors - like the international tribunals for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda - indicate the growing commitment of the international community to promote respect for human rights and humanitarian law. Wherever appropriate, we have shared our expertise and seconded our staff (including the previous Director of International Protection, Leonardo Franco to head the UN Human Rights Verification Mission to Guatemala). But we must not confuse the different and distinct mandates. Unlike human rights actors, UNHCR's role is not judgemental but humanitarian. UNHCR is there not to expose the perpetrators but to help the victims.

Solutions to refugee problems depend not only on improving human rights but also on promoting economic security. A fortnight ago, the UNDP/UNHCR Working Group met for the first time to see how our reintegration assistance can best be dovetailed into UNDP's longer term development activities, focusing this time on Cambodia, to be followed by Mozambique and the Horn of Africa. We have also agreed to a joint evaluation of our CIREFCA experience. The idea is to work on concrete collaboration rather than an abstract MOU on cooperation. Our efforts with the World Bank and the African Development Bank too appear to be paying some dividends with recent grants for Mozambique and Rwanda.

UNHCR has also received a grant from IFAD for rehabilitation of environmental damage by refugees in Tanzania. The environmental and socio-economic costs of hosting refugees featured prominently in the ExCom debate this year. I see it as a growing area of concern in the future. In line with the ExCom decision, we are examining how to implement the UNHCR environmental guidelines at the country-level and develop a resource mobilization strategy.

Speaking of resources, at the pledging conference which I attended in New York on 11 November, US$ 154 million was pledged against a 1995 GP approved target of US$ 415 million. The United States announced US$ 85 million, its highest figure ever at the UNHCR pledging conference. Although funding has been more regular this year than in the past, support for our general programmes is on the decline. Raising money will become more and more difficult in the face of growing demands, limited resources and large protracted operations.

In order to compete successfully for resources, our strategy of prevention, preparedness and solutions must be underpinned by a coherent management approach to maximize efficiency and effectiveness and minimize costs. Improving management capacity is one strand of that approach.

At the Senior Management level we must reinforce our capacity to plan and act swiftly, as well as to manage effectively. As a changing world thrusts new opportunities on us, we must constantly ask: where are we going? and how do we get there? But in an operational agency like UNHCR, strategic thinking cannot occur in isolation. It must be closely linked to operations. This is why I created the post of Director of Policy Planning and Operations in my Executive Office, and appointed Sergio Vieira de Mello, a senior UNHCR staff member well known to many of you who has just completed his secondment as Head of Civil Affairs at UNPROFOR. By undertaking major policy initiatives, supervising operations and encouraging research and dialogue with external thinkers, the post will positively combine action and reflection in UNHCR.

As we enhance our planning capacity internally, we must broaden our perspectives externally. I have invited a small group of eminent, non-government personalities to meet informally about twice a year during the course of my mandate. The idea is to share insights and increase our understanding of the global context in which humanitarian crises emerge and must be resolved. The first meeting will take place in early April 1995.

Simultaneously, we need to strengthen our ability to monitor the quality of our management. I have decided to appoint Juan Amunategui, currently the UN and UNHCR Representative in Moscow as Director of Inspection and Evaluation Service. Reporting directly to me, the post will allow me to "feel the pulse" of our major operations and field offices from time to time - and prescribe the necessary medicine when appropriate!

Fundamental to efficient management is getting the best out of our staff - and that depends often on what we put in. Investing in staff is investing in the future of the organization. This is the way I perceive the Career Management System project (CMS) which DHRM has launched with the help of Price Waterhouse consultants. The system is expected to be complete and running by 1996. Although not a panacea for all ills, it will go a long way in giving UNHCR the human resources management system it needs and the staff deserve. Parallel to it, DHRM is continuing its praiseworthy initiatives to expand incentives like MARS, VARI, and other benefits so as to encourage mobility and ease the worst aspects of hardship, isolation and insecurity to which so many of you are exposed.

Staff security remains my major concern. I was disappointed that despite the strong appeal by all agency heads, the recently-adopted Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel covers only those UN humanitarian staff working in operations authorized by the Security Council or which have been declared by the Council or General Assembly to pose an exceptional risk. I am afraid that political and bureaucratic problems inherent in such declarations may deprive us frequently of the protection of the Convention.

Parallel to strengthening our internal capacity we must continue to tap external resources through cooperation with governments, other organizations and, particularly NGOs. I want you to show the same commitment to implementing PARinAC recommendations as you did to preparing for the conference. Complementing our traditional partners, we should also look at innovative forms of cooperation. I have assigned Eric Morris, the outgoing Director of DPOS to evaluate the experience of "service packages" used in Goma and examine ways in which the military can enhance our emergency preparedness and response capacity.

The second strand of my management approach is cost effectiveness. As a voluntarily funded organization, our credibility depends on our ability to use our funds judiciously, effectively and efficiently. We must expand and contract with changing operational needs and keep down our overheads, particularly at Headquarters. As we agreed at the Senior Management Committee meeting in Evian a year ago and I reiterated at the recent Operations Review meeting, we must do everything possible to contain growth at Headquarters, even though it might mean making hard choices. Given finite funds and infinite needs, we need to develop better tools for prioritizing and measuring our workload. These will be major items for Senior Management to tackle in the New Year.

Ironically, the growth at Headquarters is due not only to the increased volume of operations in the Field, but also to the various initiatives recently launched to enhance our capacity, improve programmes and streamline procedures in line with our management goals. I hope that they will produce some desired results in 1995 in terms of deregulation, delegation and decentralization, bringing down costs, and also building a management culture of responsibility and accountability.

Finally, I would have liked to have sent you this letter from the new Headquarters building, but unfortunately our move has been delayed until mid-1995. Hopefully by the time I next write to you, we will have settled down nicely in our new offices in Geneva.

I know the tone of this letter is much less upbeat than the one I wrote in July. It has been a difficult year, but let me stress that the problems make our achievements all the more significant. We have worked well as a team and I have greatly enjoyed and appreciated your contribution. Many challenges await us in the New Year, but together we can overcome them, with vision and action. On that note, let me end my letter and wish you and your family a very Happy New Year.

Yours sincerely,

Sadako Ogata