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Speech to the Staff by Mr. Thorvald Stoltenberg, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, 17 January 1990

Speeches and statements

Speech to the Staff by Mr. Thorvald Stoltenberg, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, 17 January 1990

17 January 1990

I thank you all for coming here this morning and for your kind words of welcome. I wanted to have an early opportunity to meet and share with you some very preliminary views on the way in which I would intend to assume my mandate.

Before saying a few words, let me introduce the man sitting next to me. He is Mr. Douglas Stafford, whom I have selected as my Deputy High Commissioner, after consultations with the Secretary-General. I am delighted to have Mr. Stafford by my side with his long and wide experience both outside and inside the UN system, most recently as Deputy Assistant Administrator in the UNDP. Mr. Douglas Stafford will be running the day-to-day management of the Office, while I will be concentrating on political and funding issues. We will work hand-in-hand.

I feel both happy and privileged to be here. I come from a country, Norway, where the words, UNHCR and refugees, have always had a very special meaning. Fridtjof Nansen, my compatriot, was the first High Commissioner for Refugees. On two occasions, UNHCR has received the Nobel Peace Price in Oslo, our capital. In my earlier career, both as a diplomat and most recently as Foreign Minister, I have had an opportunity to follow closely the situation of refugees. I am thus eminently aware of the importance of UNHCR to so many people and first and foremost to the refugees. I am also aware of the unique character and quality of the staff serving this organization.

Indeed, if we are in this room, it is primarily because we not only support the goals of the organization, but believe in it as rightly holding a central place in the fashioning of a better, more peaceful and just community of Nations.

I also embark upon my duties with some trepidation. We are confronted with some of the most serious difficulties ever facing refugees all over the world, but also with a direct challenge to the very meaning and essence of UNHCR

Our common belief in the goals of UNHCR makes us all the more painfully aware of the views raised recently in many different quarters on the structure, at times the functioning, at times the effectiveness or even the very role of the organization.

Let me reiterate that I have no doubt that a state of efficiency and competence already exist in many parts of the organization, not the least in the field where UNHCR staff serves with unfalling dedication and a spirit of self-sacrifice in many cases under extremely trying circumstances.

But we also have sit down together and analyse the dramatic historic events, taking place in the world around us. If UNHCR is static and unresponsive to the political realities surrounding us, we become meaningless both to the refugees and to the internal community which have established us. If on the other hand, we are dynamic in analysing, understanding and responding to the very same political realities, we would be in a position not only to serve those who need us directly, but we well also be occupying an important and meaningful place on the world stage as the last act of the decade is being played out.

To reach this goal, I would intend as a matter of priority to create a Task Force primarily composed of UNHCR staff members to which I would request the Chairman of the Staff Council to designate a representative. This Task Force should undertake an internal study of the role of UNHCR in the nineties together with an assessment of structure and functioning of the organization, both at Headquarters and in the field, so as to advise me on how UNHCR can fulfil its role with optimum effectiveness. Let me make it clear, however, that I do not believe in making change just for the sake of change. Nothing is more unsettling in turning a new page than to forget all experiences taught and gained by the past.

In this endeavour, in intend to consult extensively with all concerned at Headquarters and in the field as I firmly believe in the necessity of continuous dialogue between management and staff.

I find it equally important fairness, objectivity, and transparency together with a clear set of rules govern all matters related to the management of staff, and of the same importance that members of the staff should at all times conduct themselves in a manner befitting their status as international civil servants.

As you all know, difficult financial constraints are facing our organization. I would not wish to dwell on the past and on the reasons which have brought about this state of affairs which has been plaguing UNHCR and other international organizations over the last few years. Let me just say that I am convinced that together we can give this Organization the sense of credibility and pride which has traditionally been its hallmark.

To overcome the current financial crisis, we will need dedicated and creative work from all parts of the organization, as well as the fullest co-operation and responsiveness of member states. We will have to carefully review our post situation with a view to fulfil the request of the ExCom regarding the number of posts in the organization. All offices have been recently requested by the Officer-in-Charge to initiate a process of information gathering which is crucial for a proper assessment of the situation. At the same time it is my intention to initiate a related process involving consultation with and participation by the staff representatives in order to ensure that appropriate measures are devised to deal with the situation of staff members who may be affected by the exercise.

UNHCR is known, yet new to me. I need time, your patience and your support to get the know the organization as soon as possible.

I intend to spend a lot of my initial time in Geneva to listen, to learn and to act, but I am eminently aware of the other side of he UNHCR coin. I intend to take earliest possible contact with all Field Offices and evidently to visit as many places as early as possible.

Indeed, members of the staff here at headquarters and at some 200 duty stations are working together to serve the refugees North and South, East and West. It is the refugees who are our constituents and ultimately it is about and to them that we are accountable. They have the right to expect the best of our services. We should demand nothing less from ourselves.

It would be pretentious and I believe unwise to make any major policies declarations today. Let me just conclude by reiterating how glad I am be here. I am aware that there are some expectations. I hope that together we can live up to them.