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Opening Statement by Mr. Jean-Pierre Hocké, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, thirty-ninth session, Geneva, 3 October 1988

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Mr. Jean-Pierre Hocké, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, thirty-ninth session, Geneva, 3 October 1988

3 October 1988

I should like to extend to you a very warm welcome on the opening of the thirty-ninth session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme. We have among us today, for the first time, two new members of the Committee, Pakistan and Somalia, countries whose generosity towards refugees is well known to us and to whom I extend a particularly warm welcome. The impact of world events on refugees since the last formal meeting of the Executive Committee has been so dramatic and profound that our deliberations during this year's session have acquired an even greater significance than would normally be the case. Even since our last informal meeting only three months ago, there have been resounding developments affecting the world's well over 12 million refugees.

For the first time in many years, there is a real hope for solutions for nearly half of our entire caseload. We are in the long-awaited position that allows us not merely to contain human misery, but to put an end to it. For the millions of others for whom an immediate solution is not in sight, imaginative medium and long-term approaches must be energetically sought. The times demand it. I trust, therefore, that our deliberations during this session of the Executive Committee and, indeed, my own remarks today, will be seen not just as a catalogue of activities but as a catalogue of challenges. It is my hope that in the end we will have taken up the gauntlet and pledged ourselves to muster the necessary will to contribute positively to these events. I invite you to join the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in taking full advantage of the fruits of peace. UNHCR, as a contributor to the United Nations family's, and especially the Secretary-General's, untiring efforts towards peace, commits itself to pursue this wave of hope sweeping all corners of the planet with renewed vigour and singlemindedness.

As such, I remain more convinced than ever that my Office's ongoing dialogue with members of the Committee, other Governments and humanitarian organizations present today, serves a necessary purpose for promoting confidence among the international community in addressing refugee issues. Overall, this unique and, in many respects, historic period has been underlined by events lending hope for solutions for millions of refugees; by a series of successes in finding lasting solutions to the plight of many others; by the unfortunate emergence of new and often dramatic refugee situations; and finally by the complication and worsening, in some cases, of long-standing refugee problems.

These events have, in turn, had a direct bearing on UNHCR's own efforts in attempting to meet successfully the new challenges and opportunities resulting from them. UNHCR's tasks under its mandate to protect and assist refugees and find solutions to their problems have become increasingly difficult and complex. The Office's workload and range of responsibilities have registered a growth and intensity that has severely strained our resources and in some cases stretched our resourcefulness to even greater limits. Whether it has been to organize or plan a new repatriation exercise or to respond effectively to a new refugee influx, it is clear that my Office's means and mandate have been put to a severe test involving the well-being of millions of uprooted human beings.

To properly focus on these important and diverse developments, I believe that a number of key illustrations would be in order. These would demonstrate where we stand today and what the magnitude of the task is before us. We will see, ultimately, the international community demonstrating some of its best instincts in the form of political accommodations and understandings, setting the stage for millions of refugees and displaced persons to regain their dignity. Unfortunately, we will also see examples of mankind's unabating perpetration of hostile and violent acts against his fellow man, as a result of which large numbers of people become dependent on international protection and assistance as their only means of survival.

I should like to direct your attention first to some of the encouraging initiatives that have raised the prospects for millions to return home under conditions of safety and dignity, as well as to instances where lasting solutions have already been found.

On the African continent, organized or spontaneous repatriation to Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zimbabwe over the last 12 months continued. The return of Ugandans from southern Sudan is all but complete. I believe we can all take encouragement from the fact that, in very difficult circumstances, over 200,000 Ugandans have returned home from the Sudan since the first half of 1986, 60,000 of them this year. In addition, we expect that the resumption of the two-way repatriation operation between Angola and Zaire will take place shortly.

The recently concluded International Conference on the Plight of Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons in Southern Africa is further demonstration of the keen awareness of the international community to address the critical aspects of the tragic and inhumane situation that prevails in that region. It is our hope and, indeed, expectation, that the objectives of the Declaration and Plan of Action of the Conference will receive the undivided attention they deserve, and that the abolition of apartheid, the promotion of national independence and the improvement of socioeconomic conditions will continue to be core considerations during the follow-up. UNHCR, for its part, will continue to call for and provide additional material resources for urgent relief assistance, while at the same time pursuing its efforts to promote self-sufficiency within the framework of the linkage between relief and development assistance. Efforts to this end by the United Nations family will, I trust, contribute considerably to overcoming the difficulties that have plagued the process of the Second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa. As I mentioned at the Conference, it is only through such aid that the States of the region can be supported as they keep their doors and their hearts open to refugees.

Another source of encouragement on the continent has been the progress in the negotiations on the situations in Angola and Namibia. We have been following closely developments that might lead to an early implementation of Security Council resolution 435 (1978) and independence for Namibia. UNHCR has a clear and specific role to play in ensuring the timely repatriation of Namibians. We have reviewed our plans, adjusted them as necessary and are ready to play our full part within the framework of the implementation of the United Nations plan. UNHCR staff are currently participating in the United Nations Technical Mission to Namibia, which, we hope, will swiftly be followed by full deployment of the United Nations Transition Assistance Group.

I would be remiss if I did not mention briefly the equally welcome news emanating from North Africa. The recent developments concerning the referendum and the acceptance of the Secretary-General's peace plan by the parties concerned is a source of satisfaction, particularly as it should yield encouraging results for several thousands of persons being assisted by UNHCR.

As I am sure everyone is aware, among the most prominent and promising developments of this past year was the signing in April of the bilateral agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This agreement makes special reference to the return of Afghan refugees and to UNHCR's role therein. The agreement represents, therefore, a much-awaited opportunity for millions of Afghans voluntarily to return home under international supervision.

You will recall that a UNHCR fact-finding team visited Afghanistan already in February. In March, a Task Force and Operational Unit at Headquarters were established; and as at 15 May, on the day the terms of the Geneva Agreements took effect, a presence in Kabul was created through the dispatch of a mission team. These efforts are being complemented by an increase in our field presence in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In other words, UNHCR has acted swiftly. To play its proper role in the event of a large-scale return, my Office has embarked on extensive preparations and contingency planning. In order to fulfil its protection mandate, and in line with the role foreseen for my Office in the Geneva Agreements, including the definition of the general modalities of assistance, UNHCR has taken a number of measures to reconfirm with all parties their commitment to the voluntary character of any repatriation and to intensify its monitoring presence in the field.

Since the appointment by the Secretary-General on 11 May of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan as the Co-ordinator for United Nations Humanitarian and Economic Assistance Programmes relating to Afghanistan, my Office enjoys the closest involvement and participation in his work. The appeal in June by the Secretary-General for assistance to Afghanistan contains some $387 million, nearly one-third of the total amount, which are related to returnee needs. The food component of these needs is considerable, and I should add that the implementation of this portion of the appeal is being planned in close consultation with the World Food Programme.

As an active participant in the United Nations co-ordination process, we have enhanced our dialogue with the main actors concerned. Moreover, nearly $12 million has been allocated for immediate requirements, pre-positioning of relief items and pilot projects for health and small-scale agriculture. As you are aware, immediate requirements for 1988 amount to nearly $50 million, of which $15 million has been received. I appeal, therefore, for additional pledges and payments to meet these requirements as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, as the course of future events in Afghanistan is difficult to predict, my Office intends to continue assistance programmes in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan at their current levels until such time as a need for an adjustment becomes clearly apparent. UNHCR is also aware of the need for any organized return programme to contain built-in flexibility which would allow for timely adjustments in the face of unpredictable circumstances.

Another significant development in a nearby region was the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Peace Agreement. This event led to the establishing of a UNHCR presence in Sri Lanka late last year, and by doing so, my Office has been able to assist some 25,000 Sri Lankan Tamils to return home from India. UNHCR has determined the voluntary nature of the return and has become fully operational. In addition, it is expected that the experience of the last 10 months would allow us to plan and implement the voluntary repatriation of the remaining 100,000 Tamils currently in India. Moreover, the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lankan peace agreement and the stabilization of the security situation, combined with the confidence generated from the existing programme, should go a long way towards facilitating the voluntary return of Sri Lankans from other regions of the world as well.

I must also refer to another promising and recent development in the region. At the request of the Government of Bangladesh, UNHCR established, in May 1988, a presence in Dhaka in order to provide limited assistance pending elaboration of a durable solution for Biharis who have not availed themselves of the possibility of obtaining Bangladeshi nationality. The recent affirmation by Pakistan that these persons could return home provides a climate of optimism. This, together with the creation of a Trust Fund co-sponsored by Pakistan and RABITA, a Muslim welfare organization, will facilitate the voluntary repatriation and eventual reintegration of tens of thousands of such persons. UNHCR will remain in close contact with the two Governments concerned and with RABITA in the furtherance of this undertaking.

1 reported to the Committee during its thirty-eighth session that voluntary repatriation of Central American refugees had started to get off the ground and that prospects for the future appeared promising. I also referred to our hope that the reduction of tensions in the region, as demonstrated by the Peace Agreement of Esquipulas II, would allow UNHCR to explore every possibility to seek humanitarian solutions for refugees. In this context, I also drew the attention of the Committee to efforts then underway to convene an international conference to facilitate concrete solutions. I am pleased to inform you today that considerable progress has been achieved both on continued voluntary repatriation and in the convening of the proposed Conference. Regarding the former, during the first eight months of the year, some 12,200 persons voluntarily returned home with UNHCR's assistance. This is already a higher figure than that of 1987, when some 11,000 persons repatriated. The contributions of the Tripartite Commissions continued to play a major role in these accomplishments. However, these movements have not been tension-free and have required a fresh review to reinforce the humanitarian character of UNHCR involvement. A clear agreement among the countries of asylum and origin regarding their respective responsibilities and competence, in conformity with established humanitarian principles and the mandate of my Office is essential. This having been established, practical modalities should be determined by UNHCR and governmental authorities, in full compliance with the humanitarian and non-political role of my Office, and free from outside interference. This being said, what has been achieved remains a source of optimism for the future.

As for the Conference, I am very pleased to announce that only a few weeks ago, the Intergovernmental Committee composed of the Governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua, as well as UNHCR, reached agreement on fundamental issues. It has been agreed that the Conference will take place in Guatemala in early May 1989. It is also of the utmost importance that the countries sponsoring the Conference have agreed on maintaining its humanitarian and non-political character. This will allow a diagnosis of the magnitude of the problems affecting refugees, returnees and related categories of Central Americans; define strategies to deal with their problems; and establish a plan of action for solutions linked to development programmes, which would take account of refugees, returnees and displaced persons as contained in the United Nations Special Economic Plan for Central America. Regarding the latter, a UNHCR Technical Mission recently visited the region to elaborate designs and means, which include wider co-operation with the United Nations Development Programme and other agencies. The technical/programming aspects of the Conference have already begun and my Office will spare no effort in doing its utmost towards the success of the Conference.

1 believe it is necessary at this juncture to say a few words with respect to the southern portion of this hemisphere. This region, which perhaps does not receive the necessary recognition for its generosity towards refugees, plays an important role in providing asylum to individual cases. I should, therefore, like to renew my appreciation to countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay for their continued humanitarian contributions.

As a further illustration of our solutions-oriented work in the midst of what had seemed to be an intractable problem, I should like to draw your attention to another region, namely South-East Asia. International burden-sharing in this region had for many years been considered as an unparalleled achievement by the international community. More than 1.1 million Indo-Chinese have found new homes through resettlement after being granted temporary first asylum. Yet, 13 years of uninterrupted influx of Indo-Chinese asylum-seekers has led to unavoidable frustrations among asylum countries in the region. Doubts cast on the bona fides of these asylum-seekers and on the commitment of the international community to resettlement has heightened these frustrations. As a result, steps to deter arrivals were taken or contemplated by Governments in the region. These measures had unfortunate and unacceptable consequences, as they led to loss of life and caused much human suffering. The net result has been a deterioration in the humanitarian practice of asylum in the region which has undermined the consensus reached during the 1979 conference on Indo-Chinese refugees.

Largely in anticipation of this crisis, UNHCR initiated a process of consultations that has been in motion for nearly 18 months, designed to develop a new international consensus. This required not only new ideas to bolster the 1979 structure, but a consciousness among all parties involved to assume their roles and responsibilities in finding effective and humane solutions to this protracted problem. As a result, certain worthwhile developments did give rise to a degree of optimism. In April 1988, at Ottawa, some key resettlement Governments arrived at a broad understanding on elements of a new package that could provide the framework for dialogue. In July, the Foreign Ministers of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered at Bangkok and issued a declaration on the subject of Indo-Chinese refugees, in which they called for an international conference to deal with this issue. They also signalled their belief that the resolution of the humanitarian problems in the region was an important element in the peace equation in South-East Asia.

For its part, the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, through letters addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to myself, on 1 July, confirmed its willingness to work, through dialogue, with other parties to find a solution to the problem of illegal departures. Bilateral discussions have subsequently taken place in July and August between Viet Nam, Malaysia, Hong Kong and UNHCR and a series of consultations are scheduled in order to prepare the ground for a meaningful and solution-oriented conference next year. This groundwork should include a joint search for a consensus that would, in effect, include a "package" of solutions encompassing asylum, resettlement and voluntary repatriation.

UNHCR is ready to do its utmost in its efforts to play a catalytic role in this encouraging process of dialogue and will continue to take an active part in this process in the coming months. At the same time, it is my firm belief that a successful outcome could only be expected if the Governments involved act in harmony and cease and desist from taking measures and actions that undermine existing norms and procedures. It is in this vein that I call on all parties concerned to co-operate with my Office during this crucial period, in full confidence that together we can achieve satisfactory results, in conformity with humanitarian norms.

As an illustration of this type of co-operation, my Office can point to the understanding recently reached with Hong Kong on the boat people. This understanding, which marked a commitment by Hong Kong to improve the treatment and living conditions of refugees and asylum-seekers, has enabled my Office to perform its traditional role of monitoring a mechanism of refugee eligibility determination which the authorities unilaterally decided to establish in June this year. I should like to underline my appreciation to the authorities in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the spirit of co-operation that prevailed in our discussions.

As I mentioned at the outset, these initiatives and achievements were, regrettably, offset by worrisome developments in many parts of the world. New and continuing emergencies, combined with an exacerbation or complication of older problems, have confronted us with daunting challenges on several fronts.

The region most affected by the new influxes is Africa. It is a fact that the overall situation of refugees in Africa has deteriorated markedly in the last 12 months as a result of continuing new exoduses, Some 800,000 refugees have been added to the Continent's already staggering refugee population. An indirect, but very significant, cause of this lamentable situation is the economic plight of Africa, reminding us of the vital link between relief and development assistance.

Large-scale influxes of refugees continue from Mozambique into neighbouring countries, the largest numbers of whom are in Malawi, where numbers now exceed 650,000 and from southern Sudan into western Ethiopia, where numbers now exceed 320,000. Since the middle of 1988, over 250,000 refugees from north-west Somalia have arrived in eastern Ethiopia, and in the last two months over 60,000 refugees from Burundi have arrived in Rwanda. If the emergency operations in Malawi and Rwanda can be said to be under control, this is not yet the case in Ethiopia where - despite the efforts of the Government, UNHCR and our operational partners the complete lack of natural resources and especially water at the sites in the east, the severely malnourished state of many new arrivals in the west, and the enormous logistic difficulties in supplying both groups, have meant that progress has been slow. This calls for renewed and urgent efforts to bring the situation under control. I would note that the nature of the two most recent influxes, from Somalia and Burundi, allowed no time for contingency planning. Yet despite this, UNHCR was able to respond in a timely manner to two dramatic emergencies only a few months apart.

Against this tragic backdrop which confronts many African countries, it is clear that, until real economic recovery on the Continent starts, promoting durable solutions will continue to be a very difficult proposition. Yet this cannot be achieved without urgently addressing and eradicating the root causes which have led to conflict and violence. Governments that have for years borne the burden of refugees are finding the strain greatly increased. Not least that of the spontaneously settled who may be major contributors to national economies in good times, but are among the first to suffer, and thus put pressure on services, in bad times.

As you know, UNHCR deals with the results of the actions of man, the primary cause of flight of those falling within the competence of my Office. While UNHCR must contend with the human consequences of these actions, the need for the international community to address causes and to mobilize much greater support to host countries in a way that has a lasting benefit cannot be emphasized enough. Humanitarian assistance in the areas of origin of many of the refugees thus remains of, literally, vital importance. It is important to avoid penalizing those who are rich in generosity but poor in resources by ignoring or minimizing their contributions or their needs.

UNHCR, for its part, while recognizing these realities, has sought to respond effectively to them within the terms of its mandate. First, with respect to resources, our General Programmes in Africa for this year have more than doubled that of only two years ago. While I will refer to the question of resources in more detail later, suffice it to say here that the long-term consequences resulting from a lack of emergency assistance to refugees in asylum countries with scarce resources could be catastrophic. Second - concerning the need to link refugee aid and development in order to strengthen the absorptive capacities of host countries and to enhance the refugees' contribution to their host States - UNHCR has taken important measures to improve its catalytic role in this area and to provide these efforts with a more solid policy/institutional base. These efforts, from an operational and policy viewpoint, are described in greater detail in the Conference Room Paper before you. I trust that, in the course of the coming days, the Committee will devote sufficient time to this very important dimension of our work.

Another situation that continues to be complex and rapidly evolving is that of Europe and North America. I outlined my preoccupation with the situation, within the framework of our intergovernmental consultations, in my statement to the Executive Committee last year. As events have been fast moving and important, they warrant another up-to-date review.

As you may be aware, changes proposed in national legislation and procedures affecting asylum-seekers and refugees are accompanied by efforts aimed at harmonization in regional intergovernmental institutions. UNHCR has welcomed opportunities to offer its expertise and express its views in this ongoing process. Our central concern can be simply stated: new laws, new procedures, new agreements can be introduced by any Government or group of Governments at any time - but none must, in theory or practice, in any way erode or minimize the institution of asylum. Unilateral actions to close doors to those in need of international protection is not the answer to the challenge of these times - a subject I will refer to in greater length later in my remarks. The best approach remains a frank and open dialogue among Governments and those humanitarian organizations directly concerned; in other words, a common effort to pave the way to real solutions.

Of course, it is important to recognize that this region too has been confronted with the massive arrival of people. It has also become increasingly obvious that additional efforts are required to safeguard the rights of asylum-seekers fleeing persecution or violence. While for other categories of persons other solutions ought to be found, this should not be done at the expense of asylum-seekers. Therefore, further efforts are required until such time as this goal is achieved.

In this spirit, I must reiterate that UNHCR attaches great importance to the process of consultations with Governments in the region which began in 1985. While a degree of tension and differences existed at the outset, these consultations now include working groups where specific problems in Europe and North America are discussed in a constructive and solution-oriented manner. This positive co-operation has led to the identification of valid solutions, both in offering temporary asylum to even those who do not fully qualify and in contributing to bringing about conditions in countries of origin that would facilitate voluntary repatriation. Thus, Governments have, for example, been encouraged to lend their support to programmes in Sri Lanka which could help to consolidate the progress toward peace in that country, creating conditions to permit a steady expansion of voluntary repatriation. In the same context, progress has also been made during 1988 in an intensified joint effort to find solutions for refugees in Turkey. Non-governmental organizations have equally played their part and should be encouraged to continue to do so. The European Consultations on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a forum for some 45 non-governmental organizations in Europe, comes to mind as an example of the positive contribution that can be made by non-governmental organizations. While concerted action by all concerned will be required to negotiate further progress beyond that already attained by the European consultations, what we have achieved is notable. In fact, given the resulting progress in the treatment by States of certain refugee groups, I trust that this approach could now be systematically applied in comparable situations.

I can only reiterate here UNHCR's concern that fair and efficient asylum procedures, ensuring full access by those in search of asylum, be the undisputed cornerstone for all future developments. As I indicated to you a year ago, recent history has demonstrated that any asylum being sought could very well be of a temporary nature. The various peace initiatives that have taken place over the past year and the real or potential benefits for refugees resulting from them lend further credence to this fact. I am confident that a growing recognition of this fact, coupled with the region's long-standing tradition of burden-sharing and asylum, will serve our collective efforts well.

I have said on numerous occasions that international protection remains the primordial task of my Office. May I reiterate that our daily endeavours in all fields are predicated on this fundamental consideration. All our functions, including the search for solutions, are related to our international protection function. Therefore, the protection issues confronting the Office must be taken very seriously. The nature of these issues, as well as our concerns about them, are reflected in the documentation before you, particularly as contained in the note on international protection. I should, nevertheless, wish to say a few words in complementarity with this information, given the importance of the subject.

In grappling with the difficulties of providing international protection to refugees, we need to acknowledge two elements: that this is a fundamental responsibility entrusted by the community of nations to the multilateral forum that cannot be compromised, and that it is of a temporary nature. It is a task that is required only during that interim phase where new exiles lack any other form of protection. The ideal protection is acquisition of a new nationality or return to the protection of a former one. The proximity of solution consequently determines the duration of international protection. Protection is, therefore, not an end in itself, but an essential safeguarding of basic human rights until a State takes over this role.

The connection between human rights and the refugee problem is a fundamental one, and is one which deserves to be particularly re-emphasized in this year which celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The philosophy and the objectives of this Declaration are integral to the work of UNHCR. Refugees are created by violations - either specific or general - of basic human rights and the international protection structures are intended to safeguard them from further violations of their rights while in exile. Refugees are a victimized minority with the unique characteristic of being unable to return home in safety and dignity. Four decades ago, the international community deemed that the basic rights of this vulnerable minority should be entrusted to the international community through the agency of UNHCR. These historical milestones - the fortieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration, followed next year by the twentieth anniversary of the Organization of African Unity Refugee Convention, and the first international treaty referring to asylum, the Treaty on International Penal Law signed a century ago in Montevideo - should serve to remind us all of the magnitude of this undertaking and its historical dimensions.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that this undertaking has a moral imperative, as others have often emphasized. It is, ultimately, not so much dependent on international conventions and national legal structures as it is on the collective conscience of the community of nations. This moral dimension is what makes the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees unique among international organizations and what makes our task at the same time often extremely difficult. Yet, we make no excuses for undertaking it, as we do so on your behalf - on behalf of all States Members of the United Nations. I have often said that my preference in performing this function is for discreet persuasion rather than public pronouncement, as I believe it must be in such a sensitive area. There may, however, be times when this is not enough and, in these instances, the moral imperative of our protection responsibility insists that we use all means at our disposal to safeguard those individuals for whom we are the last resort. This does not mean that we should adopt lofty, unrealistic positions that ignore the political realities of an often harsh world. But it does mean that our search for solutions must be circumscribed by the basic rules of natural justice and accepted norms in the treatment of one of the most vulnerable groups amongst us. These international norms have always stood apart from and above national preoccupations and they will continue to do so. In appealing for the protection of refugees we are appealing for the respect of these long-established traditions, and we are appealing to the conscience of nations. I remain confident that this is an appeal which all members of the Executive Committee, and all other States represented here, will fully endorse.

It is against this daunting background of increasing and ever challenging tasks that my Office must continue its work. The growing complexities of our endeavours, be they in meeting vital and urgent human needs or in becoming more and more involved in delicate solution-oriented undertakings require even greater international support.

For one, my Office will require the necessary resources to cope with the reality that confronts it. As you are aware, the new demands on UNHCR have necessitated an upward revision of some $42.6 million in the budget of the 1988 General Programmes, from $377.5 million as approved in October 1987 to $420.1 million. This revised budget was only arrived at after a thorough review of global requirements and economies. The most recent review was undertaken as recently as mid-September when, primarily, developments in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda and Hong Kong required us to do so. In fact, the General Programmes' target has followed a continued rising curve since the beginning of the year and numerous appeals for additional funds have had to be launched. I must say here how grateful I am to the donor community for having, throughout these difficult times, been supportive of the Office's work and made sufficient resources available., I would not be frank, however, if I told you that the financial situation of the Office is not preoccupying. We all fully understand that, although the dedication and the commitment of Governments are infinite, their financial resources have clear limits. While the availability of the required funds is thus a source of concern, I am confident that we can count on maximum support from donors.

As I speak today, UNHCR is still looking for some $120 million to cover projected needs, which, as I mentioned, is a source of real concern. I should like to assure you that we are sparing no efforts to identify, within existing resources., funds that may be saved, diverted, recouped, or redeployed. Yet, given my Office's prevailing serious financial situation, I must take this opportunity to reiterate our urgent appeal for generous contributions as soon as possible.

We are also aware that to meet the refugees' needs your confidence must be earned; and that it is not enough simply to come up with financial targets or figures, no matter how thoroughly they are arrived at, but that my Office must demonstrate sound management of its human and material resources. This subject has, of course, been a matter of highest priority for me since I assumed office nearly three years ago. I was entrusted with a mandate to overhaul and radically improve the management and effectiveness of UNHCR, a task I took up with the utmost seriousness. This was especially required given the fast-evolving refugee situation in the world. Accordingly, urgent attention was given to areas such as financial and programme control, personnel and management in general. The reorganization of the Office in 1986 was embarked upon with a real perception that by streamlining staff, reducing support costs and modernizing programme delivery/control, a greater dynamism would be generated throughout UNHCR, which would allow it to carry out its vital tasks more cost-effectively and efficiently.

The measures that have been taken are well known to you, so I will not dwell on them at length here. They have been the subject of ongoing and detailed dialogue between the Executive Committee and my Office for some time now. The goals and implications of the Operational Support Plan (OSP) and its precursor, the Plan of Action, have been shared with the Committee on a regular basis. The development and/or refinement of the Financial Management Information System, the Technical Support Service, Supplies and Food Aid Service are but a few important components of the Plan that have already borne fruit. While more remains to be achieved, there is no doubt that, as a result of our cumulative efforts, great improvements have been made in the Office's process of assessing needs; in enhancing the quality and scope of financial planning and budgeting; and in refining the evaluation, reassessing and reviewing of programmes. These have become a regular feature of our work.

Another essential component of improvements in the financial and administrative areas is personnel: its quality, level and management. I have often said, and I repeat it here again, that the quality of our programmes is only as good as the quality of the people who administer them. In this respect, I wish to pay tribute to the staff of UNHCR who have selflessly dedicated themselves to the often difficult tasks entrusted to them. Particularly at a time of an expanding workload, on the one hand, and system-wide administrative and fiscal constraints on the other, the resulting demands on the energies and dedication of our staff have multiplied; I cannot express enough my admiration for the remarkable way the staff have handled these new demands and pressures. This commitment was confirmed by the Chairman of the Staff Council in his statement before the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters last week, which included an acknowledgement of the constructive staff/management dialogue that currently exists. The management, for its part, will continue to work in a most positive spirit with the Staff Council on matters of common interest.

At the same time, in addition to institutional reforms and the quality of our staff, we must ensure that adequate levels of human resources are available to meet the requirements of new or expanding refugee situations. As the Committee is aware, every effort has and will continue to be made to redeploy posts and staff and to tap the resources of operational partners to meet unanticipated needs, though in several instances this has not been feasible. Particularly when the protection of refugees is at stake and when programme delivery, be it for emergency care and maintenance or solutions-related work, need to be assured by our staff, we call on the continued support and understanding of the Executive Committee to endorse additional resources as may be required. In this respect, the words of support last week during the meetings of the Sub-Committees are a source of encouragement for which we are grateful.

This is not to say that we have relegated the need to streamline our staffing levels and reduce support costs to a secondary consideration. In keeping with the recommendations of the Group of 18 (Group of High-level Intergovernmental Experts to Review the Efficiency of the Administrative and Financial Functioning of the United Nations)[7] and the 1987 conclusions of the Executive Committee relevant to the issues of management, programme support and administration, my Office has sought to fulfil its commitments to reduce staff and related support costs. These efforts have been regularly brought to the attention of the Executive Committee in a systematic and transparent manner. At the same time, while we are taking all the necessary steps to fulfil our commitments, the necessary flexibility entrusted to the High Commissioner to respond to unanticipated situations has proven to be indispensable.

Mr. Chairman, much more can be said on the subject of management, but I believe our regular dialogue over the course of the past year and the information in your possession cover the spectrum of related topics and issues. I look forward to a most constructive discussion of these issues over the next few days. Permit me to say how much I and my staff have valued the guidance and insights that members of the Committee have provided to us in this difficult time of belt-tightening throughout the United Nations and the growing demands on organizations such as UNHCR to do yet more for humanitarian causes.

I should like to assure you that we will spare no effort in continuing along this multi-laned road of work: responding to ongoing and unforeseen care and maintenance; protecting and simultaneously seeking solutions for refugees; and reforming and streamlining the organization. Although the balance is often a delicate one to achieve, it is one from which there is no turning back.

Mr. Chairman, before I conclude, I must congratulate you on your election as Chairman of the thirty-ninth session of the Executive Committee. You bring not only vast experience and diplomatic talents to this position, but you also represent a country with a distinguished record of receiving and assisting refugees. Your guidance and counsel will, therefore, be especially valuable. Your predecessor, Ambassador Robertson of Australia, has left behind a remarkable legacy of leadership and dynamism. While I cannot review all his accomplishments here, I must pay special tribute to him for his efforts in contributing to a marked qualitative improvement in the dialogue between my Office and the Executive Committee. His hard work and dedication on the question of observers is another example of his energy and skills. I would also like to express our appreciation to the Ambassador's staff for their hard work in support of the outgoing Chairman's efforts on behalf of the Office.

Mr. Chairman, as I said at the outset, we are faced with unique circumstances: opportunities that cannot slip away and challenges that cannot be ignored. Many of these I have outlined today, and will, undoubtedly, be discussed at greater length during this session. At the same time, we must acknowledge that peace and hope require a considerable degree of commitment and, at least temporarily, clear costs in terms of resources. The costs of the alternative are painfully known to us. The choice is, therefore, clear: we cannot hesitate nor can we succumb to narrow interests. We must be poised and ready to build on what has recently been achieved. The decade of the eighties has often been described as the decade of the dispossessed and the destitute. Yet, as we approach the end of this decade, there exists an excellent opportunity to make amends for these disturbing and turbulent past years. Let it be said one day that the period that followed was marked by a massive reversal in the fortunes of millions of these people. We owe them no less.