Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Follow-up to the report of the Secretary-General on the in-depth evaluation of UNHCR's programme on international protection of and assistance to refugees: protection aspects

Executive Committee Meetings

Follow-up to the report of the Secretary-General on the in-depth evaluation of UNHCR's programme on international protection of and assistance to refugees: protection aspects

3 May 1994

3 May 1994
Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection
24th meeting


1. The forty-fourth session of the Executive Committee requested that the High Commissioner keep the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection informed of the progress made and constraints encountered in the implementation of the protection-related recommendations contained in the "In-depth evaluation of the programme on international protection of and assistance to refugees: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees" (E/AC.51/1993/2) (In-depth Evaluation) as well as the recommendations and conclusions of the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC) thereon (A/48/16 (Part I)).

2. The relevant recommendations are:

Recommendation 1: Population displacements not covered by international instruments

Recommendation 2: Catalytic political role of UNHCR

Recommendation 3: Human rights aspects of refugee situations

Recommendation 8: UNHCR focal point on early warning

Recommendation 18: Refugee law at the country level

Recommendation 19: Collaboration with academic institutions


A. Population displacements not covered by international instruments

3. Recognizing that internally displaced persons have no agency comparable to UNHCR to turn to when they are forced from their homes, recommendation 1 of the In-Depth Evaluation states that:

Population displacements not covered by international instruments: In situations of displacements of populations not covered by international instruments, UNHCR should have an advisory role for protection issues with the organizations involved in operations of relief and assistance. In such situations, when prompt and adequate assistance is not provided by any other international organization, UNHCR should seek the necessary authority to provide the protection and assistance needed. (E/AC.51/1993/2.para. 12)

4. The current policy position of UNHCR vis-à-vis internally displaced persons is that set out by the High Commissioner in an inter-office/field office memorandum of 28 April 1993 (IOM/33/93-FOM/33/93). This memorandum is attached as Annex I. It should be noted, however, that the Executive Committee has asked the High Commissioner to review and pursue a number of issues related to internally displaced persons. The question of the internally displaced is still being considered by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), chaired by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

5. For ease of reference, the conclusions and decisions on the question of internally displaced persons adopted by the forty-fourth session of the Executive Committee are set out below.

6. In its General Conclusion on International Protection adopted at its forty-fourth session (A/AC.96/821, para. 19), the Executive Committee:

Recalls paragraph 14 of General Assembly resolution 47/105 and, in this connection, reaffirms its support for the High Commissioner's activities, on the basis of requests from the Secretary-General or the competent principal organs of the United Nations and with the consent of the concerned State, in providing humanitarian assistance and protection to internally displaced persons in specific situations which call for the Office's particular expertise, and notes the establishment by the High Commissioner of criteria for responding to requests to her Office for involvement in such activities, with due regard to the complementary mandates and specific expertise of other relevant organizations as well as the availability of sufficient resources (para. 19(s));

Requests the High Commissioner, in pursuance of the need for the international community to explore methods and means to address better within the United Nations system the protection and assistance needs of internally displaced persons, to promote further consultations on this priority issue with the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, and with other appropriate international organizations and bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, and to report on the results of these discussions to the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection and, as appropriate, the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters (para. 19 (t)).

7. In its decision on internally displaced persons, the Executive Committee requested the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters "to review the financial and programmatic implications of the current UNHCR activities, including information, related to internally displaced persons" (A/AC.96/821, para. 30 (a)). As the preambular paragraph of this decision shows, the reference to "information" refers back to the General Conclusion on International Protection, in which the Committee:

Notes the importance of availability of and access to objective and accurate information concerning the various causes of coerced displacement in order to facilitate informed decision-making at all stages of refugee situations and supports in this regard the High Commissioner's efforts to develop an appropriate information strategy and to maintain relevant information databases. (para. 19 (ff))

8. In reviewing the recommendation of the In-depth Evaluation on internally displaced persons, the above conclusions and decisions of the Executive Committee need to be borne in mind. The 28 April 1993 directive (see Annex I) issued by the High Commissioner on this question situates UNHCR's role vis-à-vis the internally displaced in the context of the respective roles of other organizations working with internally displaced persons, and shows sensitivity to the important question of resources. As such, it reflects the concerns of Members of the Executive Committee. However, the directive would appear to propose a less pro-active role for than that envisaged in the recommendation.

B. Catalytic political role of UNHCR

9. Recommendation 2 of the In-Depth Evaluation focused on UNHCR's involvement in the prevention of refugee flows and in playing a more active role in ensuring that political issues affecting exiled communities are taken up in appropriate international forums. The recommendation states:

Catalytic political role of UNHCR: Working in cooperation with the political authorities of the United Nations and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, UNHCR should bring to the attention of the relevant intergovernmental bodies information on situations which could give rise to displacement of populations. (E/AC.51/1993/2, para. 14)

10. The High Commissioner is committed to maintaining issues related to refugees, displaced persons, asylum-seekers, and other migratory flows firmly on the international political agenda, especially the question of solution-oriented approaches. UNHCR recognizes its capacity to contribute, as an agency frequently present in both refugee-producing and refugee-receiving countries, to the sharing and analysis of information relevant to preventive activities. UNHCR is cooperating within an inter-agency framework on developing a United Nations Early Warning mechanism.

C. Early warning

11. Recommendation 8 of the In-depth Evaluation takes up various aspects of UNHCR's contribution to a United Nations system-wide, early-warning mechanism.

UNHCR focal point on early warning: UNHCR should establish a focal point exclusively in charge of research on early warning questions, including the development of indicators of impending displacements of population, with access to all existing information within UNHCR. The focal point should develop guidelines for UNHCR staff on gathering and reporting relevant information. The UNHCR focal point should coordinate its activities with the focal points of other United Nations departments and agencies within the framework proposed by the Organizational Committee of ACC. In this context, UNHCR will actively participate, alongside other concerned organizations of the United Nations system, with the newly instituted consultations mechanism on early warning on flow of information on mass movement of populations, under the aegis of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs. (E/AC.51/1993/2, para. 26)

12. By way of introduction to this recommendation, it might be noted that progress on the question of early warning is occurring on a number of related fronts.

13. UNHCR, like other agencies, is developing relevant databases related to its sphere of competence. Among UNHCR's databases, those dealing with country information are particularly relevant for the development of an early warning capacity. Country information can be found on the following UNHCR databases:

COREF - Contains bibliographic references to country-specific titles and keywords from the International Thesaurus of Refugee Terminology.

REFINFO - A collection of nearly 10,000 research reports on specific issues relating to refugees and countries of origin; the entries include fully cited comprehensive summaries of existing information in the public domain.

Former Yugoslavia - A collection of policy documents concerning former Yugoslavia. The entries include the full text of Security Council resolutions, and reports from the Commission on Human Rights and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Country/Region List - A collection of country profiles and frequently requested information presented in the form of issue-oriented research papers.

14. These databases are maintained and updated in collaboration with a range of government entities including the Documentation, Information and Research Branch of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and the Refugee Information Center of the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the Department of Justice of the United States. In addition, UNHCR has access to country/regional information provided by NGOs through the International Refugee Electronic Network (IRENE). Once analysed by UNHCR, this information is incorporated in the Country/Region List. Analysis of information from the Country/Region database forms the basis of information regularly supplied to DHA.

15. At the inter-agency level, DHA is working on the conceptualization and organization of a humanitarian early-warning system. DHA has also been addressing the question of the categorization of information according to socio-economic and other indicators, and isolating information sources essential to the efficient functioning of the system. An important component of this process is a monthly inter-agency consultation, chaired by DHA, which shares and analyses information deemed relevant to the early warning of new flows of refugees and displaced persons. UNHCR regularly feeds information on country-specific situations into the deliberations of this consultation.

16. It will be recalled that the Agenda for Peace (A/47/277-S/24111) and General Assembly resolution 47/120 called for the setting up in the United Nations Secretariat of an early-warning system. The initiatives mentioned above should be seen as steps towards the achievement of an integrated early-warning system. The Secretary-General has also been requested by resolution 1993/70 (Human rights and mass exoduses) of 10 March 1993 of the forty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights to report on progress in this area.

17. UNHCR has designated a focal point on early-warning matters who works in close collaboration with UNHCR's Centre for Documentation on Refugees and represents UNHCR in United Nations system-wide deliberations on early-warning issues.

D. Human rights aspects of refugee situations

18. Recommendation 3 recognizes that human rights violations are a factor in many coerced departures and addresses the issue of greater linkage between UNHCR and the human rights organs and activities of the United Nations system. The recommendation states:

Human rights aspects of refugee situations: UNHCR and the Centre on Human Rights should establish joint mechanisms to ensure that: (a) refugee situations emanating from human rights violations are brought to the attention of the Commission on Human Rights, and appropriate action is proposed to it; (b) advisory services and technical cooperation aimed at improving the implementation of international covenants and agreements on human rights, including monitoring and reporting mechanisms, adequately address the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. (E/AC.51/1993/2, para. 15)

19. Increased coordination on human rights within the United Nations system formed part of the Vienna Programme of Action, and it was recommended that the Centre for Human Rights play an important role in this. UNHCR continues to seek to strengthen its cooperation with the human rights bodies of the United Nations with a view to promoting effective responses to human rights problems. UNHCR works actively with the Commission on Human Rights in following and promoting resolutions on issues of concern to the Office, monitoring, and contributing, where appropriate, to country reports.

20. UNHCR participates in the regular Inter-Agency meetings convened by the Centre for Human Rights. In addition, UNHCR hopes to finalize a Memorandum of Understanding, which would cover many of the elements referred to in the In-Depth Evaluation and its recommendations, with the Centre. This Memorandum would include provisions for collaboration in staff training, the participation of resource persons from UNHCR, the Centre, and other, organizations in seminars and educational activities, and increased consultations regarding the preparation and dissemination of human rights materials. Its numerous information-sharing measures include consultations on a computer database for the Centre that would be linked with existing databases and database projects within the United Nations, including UNHCR.

21. UNHCR attends meetings of the Human Rights Committee in an observer capacity and follows the work of other treaty bodies, notably the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee against Torture. UNHCR has disseminated the Convention on the Rights of the Child and is working to promote broader understanding, within and outside the Office, of the fact that UNHCR's work on behalf of refugee children shall be within the framework of this Convention.

E. Promotion of refugee law

22. Pointing to UNHCR's mandated responsibility to consolidate and expand the legal framework governing the status and rights of refugees, the evaluation comments positively on the extent of UNHCR's activities in the field of promotion of refugee law. Recommendation 18 states:

Refugee Law at the Country Level: Activities on refugee law promotion should be included in UNHCR Country programmes. The implementation of these activities should be part of the functions of Field Protection Officers. (E/AC.51/1993/2, para. 38)

23. In view of its importance as a protection function, the promotion of refugee law has been the subject of several Executive Committee conclusions. Promotion of refugee law includes activities such as training, dissemination, capacity-building, and teaching, all of which are carried out on a regular basis by most UNHCR branch offices as an integral part of their international protection function. UNHCR's activities in the field of promotion, which have traditionally been concerned with questions of asylum and refugee reception, have focused increasingly on human rights, the treatment of minority groups and issues of citizenship.

24. In some cases, promotional activities are funded out of country programmes; in others, out of a Headquarters budget. Field Representatives and protection officers have been encouraged to integrate planned activities on refugee law promotion into their country programmes in order to ensure consistency and continuity among all aspects of UNHCR operations. To further strengthen its promotion capacity, UNHCR is considering the establishment of Regional Coordinators for Refugee Law (promotion and training) in selected field offices.

25. Noting that UNHCR has too few protection officers with legal backgrounds to cover all situations which present difficult protection problems, the evaluation emphasizes the importance of collaboration with academic institutions. Recommendation 19 states:

Collaboration with Academic institutions: UNHCR should designate a focal point/research manager to facilitate collaboration with academic and research Institutions for purposes of enhancing the promotion of refugee law and the dissemination of the fundamental principles of refugee protection. A world survey on research and academic institutions and organizations action in Areas of interest of refugee issues should be conducted, perhaps by an academic centre in collaboration with UNHCR. (E/AC.51/1993/2, para. 39)

26. UNHCR has recently received funding for a project to enhance its policy-making capacity through improved research management. This project, which is of six months' duration, will develop a research agenda for UNHCR in the light of new challenges confronting the organization, improve the dissemination of research findings within UNHCR so as to assist policy-making, create a database of current research with links to other relevant databases in UNHCR and elsewhere, strengthen UNHCR's relations with academic and research institutions, and improve UNHCR's internal mechanisms for the coordination of policy research activities.

27. The focal point for the promotion of refugee law remains the Chief of the Promotion of Refugee Law Section.