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Closing Statement by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-eighth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 5 October 2007

Speeches and statements

Closing Statement by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-eighth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 5 October 2007

5 October 2007

Honourable Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished delegates,

First of all, let me congratulate our new Chairman, Ambassador Van Eenennaam. I know we will be very well led during the next year, and I am looking forward to a very close and meaningful cooperation.

I would like to congratulate the Vice Chairman, Ambassador Laura Thompson, and our Rapporteur Ms. Emina Tudakovic. It will indeed be a pleasure to work together with you.

I want to express my deep gratitude also to our Chairman, to Ambassador Mtesa. He has conducted not only this session of the ExCom but all our work together over the last year in a remarkable way. He has been a very strong supporter of the Office and the people we care for. My gratitude goes too to the other members of the Bureau.

Allow me to say a few words about the excellent work done by our Secretariat. This was a remarkable challenge and we are happy that you have been able to meet it with such determination and competence. Also to all those who have helped in our work, to the interpreters, to the staff of the Palais, to everybody involved.

But, of course, the key expression of gratitude should go to the delegates, to the ExCom. This ExCom featured a high-quality debate and we found here a great deal of commitment and support. I have to say that I will leave this room today with much more enthusiasm and much more determination than I had on Monday - and I was quite enthusiastic and quite determined when we began.

At the end of our session, I would like to highlight what I consider to be the 10 commitments that will guide our action during the next year.

First, a commitment to our mandate. Protecting, assisting and helping to provide solutions for refugees, stressing the rights of stateless people and reducing statelessness are our core mandate. In everything we do, we can never forget our mandate, and nothing will distract us from it.

Commitment to our mandate but also commitment to the beneficiaries, because a mandate is only meaningful when it relates to people. We need to be a humanistic and rights-minded organization rather than a technocratic one. For that, the beneficiaries must be always at the centre of our concerns and activities. Refugees, stateless people, internally displaced - all of them and each one of them. Wherever one refugee has a problem or is in danger, we need to be present and we need to act.

We need to be a humanistic and rights-minded organization rather than a technocratic one.

Our action is guided by a key principle. We are here to serve the beneficiaries. For us to be able to do so, our Headquarters needs to serve our actions in the field. Organizations sometimes tend to look into themselves and forget about their raison d'être. That must never happen to UNHCR.

Commitment to protection. We are a protection agency, and protection is at the centre of everything we do. All our actions must be protection minded. All the members of our staff must look at themselves as protection officers. Only with this approach will we be able to deliver. It is precisely because we are concerned with protection that we want to discuss the asylum-migration nexus with you. We do not want to become a migration management agency but we want to be sure that the protection needs in mixed flows of population are adequately met. The international community, independently of who or what it chooses as tools to address these issues, must discuss the present trends of displacement. And protection needs to be at the centre of everything we do and at the centre of UNHCR's staff concerns at every moment.

All the members of our staff must look at themselves as protection officers.

Protection is also a commitment to solutions. I think we all agree on the need for a comprehensive set of solutions, making use of voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity - always our preferred solution - but also of resettlement opportunities and of local integration possibilities. With one clear priority: to address in a determined way the protracted situations that have been a dramatic problem for the beneficiaries themselves, for the refugees themselves, and for us as an agency. We must never give up. Wherever we prioritize solutions that cannot mean we forget or exclude others.

A commitment to solutions also must mean commitment to the sustainability of those solutions. This is a big challenge for the international community. When we help people go back to Afghanistan, to Liberia, to the DRC and to Burundi, we are deeply concerned with the sustainability of their return. As we are concerned with the sustainability of peace and democracy in many parts of the world.

This goes far beyond our mandate. Here, we must work as catalysts, bringing together the development community in order to help countries and Member States address development challenges so as to guarantee the sustainability of the solutions we help provide. And this concerns more than return. It involves self-reliance and community development in areas that host refugees. I have mentioned Uganda, northwest Tanzania, the Northwest Territories in Pakistan, and we could list many others. Refugee-impacted areas also pose a sustainability question, along with the challenge of making sure local integration can work and is not too heavy a burden for the countries that in a generous mood, provide it.

Protection, solutions, sustainability, our mandate, our beneficiaries: it is for all these reasons we need a clear commitment to reform. Readiness, flexibility, expertise are key in UNHCR's action. But we are not quite there yet. There are many things we need to change in our organization in order to be able to meet the challenges we face today.

So our commitment to reform is as strong as ever. To be more cost-effective but, above all, to be more effective in the work we do for the people we care for. We are aware that reforms come at a cost. We need to look at reforms not in a technocratic way but in a humanistic way, especially when we consider the impact of reforms on our own staff. There are positive aspects to this impact but there are also, inevitably, costs that need to be addressed.

I understand in their interpretation of their mandate and in relation to a key recent aspect of the reform - outplacement - that our Staff Council has been mostly concerned with stopping the process, with blocking the process. This is perfectly understandable. But our obligation has been, and we have been strongly engaged in this with all our energy and imagination, to find solutions for the people affected. I am happy to report that our voluntary separation programme has been extremely successful. 39 members of our administrative staff in Geneva will benefit from it, exclusive of others in the field and of members of the professional staff. Because we have frozen recruitment in Geneva for G staff during a long period before the outplacement - prevention is always the best attitude - we have been able to identify a relevant number of vacancies, 40 in Geneva for G staff in functions that will remain in Geneva and for which affected staff members have been given priority. They are being placed now.

We will also be able to open a new group of more limited opportunities such that, together with the possibilities of finding jobs in other UN agencies and the promotion from G staff to P staff - which was offered to five members of our G staff in Geneva - the number of administrative staff in Geneva to be separated will be very limited, if any, at the end of the process. This demonstrates the concern and energy we have devoted not only to reform but to the legitimate concerns of our staff. This comes with a cost and I appeal to your generosity in relation to the appeal we have launched for the reform process.

In reform, consultations with the staff are of paramount importance. We have conducted the reform until now with continuous and in-depth consultations. We will continue with in-depth consultations with the staff, with one single observation: consultations do not mean co-management. With me, it will never mean co-management because that is a recipe for disaster, for the paralysis of the organization. That we can never accept because of our concern for the people we care for, for the beneficiaries who are at the very centre of our activities.

Let me say a word of deeply felt praise to Raymond Hall and to the team which has been leading the reform process. They have worked with a lot of intelligence, a lot of competence, dedication and integrity. I do not think what we have done until now would have been possible without their presence and their support.

Results-based management is a key component of reform. Our Deputy High Commissioner will have as a priority the task of ensuring that we become a true results-based management oriented organization. And this is not an easy task. It means being able to assess our needs in an effective way, all our needs, while maintaining reasonable budgets. That requires the capacity to strategize and to prioritize, capacity we do not yet have. We will build it, along with greater transparency and accountability in the way we implement and the ability to measure results, the impact of our actions. This package of instruments is in the final stage of construction and will allow us to do results-based management much better than in the past.

Commitment to reform inside UNHCR, but also commitment to the UN reform. We will be dedicated partners in the UN reform process: in the humanitarian area, through the Cluster Approach and our engagement coordinating protection, camp management and shelter for the internally displaced, within the global distribution of work in the UN system and the broader humanitarian community; but also on the development side, as part of the relevant areas of the Delivering As One process, an effort that has already helped us engage other relevant partners in the sustainability dimension of our global action.

We are committed to partnership in general. We view our action today as something we cannot do alone. Even if our mandate is clear, we will never be able to fulfil it on our own. Today, our enlarged family of partnerships comprises three pillars: the UN family, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and the NGO movement. We see these partnerships as an alliance among equals based on strategic concerns and not as implementation arrangements for this or that purpose. We will be guided by the principles adopted at the Global Humanitarian Platform and are deeply committed to help the UN family improve the coordination of our common endeavours.

Commitment to the security and welfare of our staff. At a very difficult financial moment for the organization, more than a year ago, we took the decision that security concerns would take absolute priority. Whether the money was available or not we would - as quickly as possible - make all our operations MOSS compliant, meaning they met UN security standards. This is not only a question of hardware, of building fences, creating walls or whatever is necessary in the field; it is a question of culture, the culture of security. We will never be able to abolish risk but we need to be able to manage it. This is something that involves every one of us working as a team toward that goal.

Sergio Vieira de Mello is a very important reference for all of us. He was a colleague at UNHCR for several decades. But there are many Sergio Vieira de Mellos who remain anonymous, whose sacrifice is for us a permanent guiding principle and to whom I want to pay heartfelt tribute.

Living and working conditions are equally important. I must say I was appalled, on joining UNHCR, to see how bad staff living and working conditions are in many parts of the world. We are consulting with staff on a new set of norms, standards and new equipment, namely prefabricated housing we want to be able to deploy quickly to areas where local capacity is insufficient to build what we need to work properly.

I believe that with funds freed up by our reduction in costs we will be able to meet these requirements. Our staff is very dedicated and does excellent work. But let us be honest: our staff would work much better if provided with adequate working and living conditions. Those conditions will never be optimal. It is obviously extremely difficult to ensure that in the most remote places in the world. But we need to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure they are adequate.

The final commitment is to an enhanced dialogue and cooperation with the Member States, with the members of the ExCom, with you. Together, we face new and complex challenges. These can be addressed from a strictly humanitarian point of view, but they also require a political answer from the international community. That political answer requires political leadership and political leadership can only come from Member States. Only Member States have the necessary legitimacy. I am sure that you will demonstrate, together with that legitimacy, the wisdom, determination and courage to face them.

Thank you very much.