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Closing Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Forty-fifth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 7 October 1994

Speeches and statements

Closing Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Forty-fifth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 7 October 1994

7 October 1994

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I should like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your able leadership and all the participants for their thought-provoking statements which have made this Executive Committee session an extremely constructive one. I deeply appreciate the warm praise which delegations have paid to me and my staff. The strength of UNHCR lies in the dedication and diligence of its staff, many of whom are working in some of the most distant and dangerous parts of the world. Your words will be a source of encouragement to them - indeed, to all of us. I shall convey your tribute to them in the letter which I write to the staff every year after the Executive Committee session.

I know you share my concern for the security of my staff, and hope that you will support all measures to ensure their safety and well-being.

The past months have been difficult. The ones ahead will be equally demanding, interspersed with challenges and opportunities as we seek to ensure protection and pursue solutions for refugees.

Refugee problems of today are as complex in their causes, as they are distressing in their consequences and dramatic in their manifestation. The way in which they are handled directly affect international stability, security and economic progress. I have been encouraged by your support for a comprehensive and concerted strategy of prevention, preparedness and solutions. Many delegations have also rightly identified the new window of opportunity offered by regional approaches, which we hope to explore in the coming months.

At the same time, aware of the limits of prevention and the fragility of solutions in an imperfect world, we must remain ever ready to protect those who are uprooted. Humanitarian assistance is not only about relief, it is first and foremost about protecting the human rights and well-being of the victims. Protection was the underlying theme of my opening statement and I was very encouraged to find its resonance in many of your interventions. As the need for protection grows, bridging the gaps in existing instruments, institutions and practices become a major concern, whether for refugees, returnees, internally displaced or stateless persons. With your support, we must continue to study new tools of temporary protection without undermining existing principles. With your participation, we must continue to find ways of addressing the protection needs of returnees. With the cooperation of a wide range of human rights and humanitarian actors, we must ensure that the protection of the internally displaced is not overlooked. I hope that in the course of the coming year we shall also be able to give more thought to the plight of the stateless, perhaps at the inter-sessional meeting of the Sub-Committee on International Protection.

I have noted your positive comments on the concept of "service packages" as a useful emergency response mechanism. As already mentioned, we will be seeking to refine it in the light of the lessons learned in the context of the Rwanda emergency. I intend to appoint a senior staff member to follow up, as a matter of priority, initiatives which we have already launched to enhance our capacity and expand our partnerships. We will also continue to upgrade our existing programmes and procedures. Uppermost in my mind is the qualitative improvement of conditions of refugee women and children.

In recent years partnership has been a consistent and constant theme of our endeavours. Supporting our efforts, this Committee has again underscored the need for the international system to better coordinate and dovetail its efforts to meet the needs of the victims as well as promote solutions, particularly by linking relief to rehabilitation and development. Whether in terms of prevention, preparedness or solutions, we fully recognize we must work closely with other actors: international and regional; governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental. Some progress has been made, but much more needs to be done, filling gaps but avoiding overlaps, addressing imbalances while enhancing complementarity. The convening of a joint informal meeting of the boards of WFP, UNICEF, UNDP and UNHCR is an interesting proposal, but given the diversity and size of the respective boards, it would need careful preparation.

The ultimate test of effective cooperation and coordination lies in the speed and quality of the response in the field. While always striving to do better, let us not overlook the genuine and effective cooperation and coordination, which has been built at the field level among all partners, within and outside the UN system, and which is best promoted by a clear division of labour, based on competence and capacity.

I am as acutely conscious as you of the increasing demands on UNHCR, stretching our capacity to respond as well as our ability to innovate. I have noted your unease about resource implications and the imbalance between UNHCR's General and Special programmes, which is being enlarged by growing emergencies and large-scale repatriations. I fully support the discussions envisaged in one of the forthcoming meetings of the Sub-Committee on Financial and Administrative Matters. I hope they will help to provide UNHCR with a more secure financial base for the years to come.

I am very grateful for the financial contributions announced by governments during this session and recent days, amounting to almost US$119 million. But let me add, that I am also deeply grateful for the contributions of asylum countries which cannot be quantified easily in material terms. The environmental damage and the socio-economic strains caused by the presence of large numbers of refugees are only part of the toll which they are forced to pay for their generous hospitality and human solidarity. I urge the international community to address these issues more consistently in the context of rehabilitation and development.

I have listened with great interest to all your statements, which have reflected the richness and diversity of this Committee's membership. Here in this room we have countries from all regions of the world, countries dealing with all aspects of the refugee problem, countries of origin and asylum as well as donors, international and non-governmental organisations. The value of this forum lies in the opportunities it offers for dialogue, both inside and outside this room, across such a wide spectrum. Let us cherish and uphold the valuable feature of this unique humanitarian assembly, while continuing to examine ways for improvement.

This ExCom session is about to end, but our work in the service of refugees continues around the globe. It is very gratifying and reassuring for me to know that in our difficult but challenging tasks we enjoy the confidence of governments, and the cooperation of the international and non-governmental organizations. Your encouragement and guidance is particularly valuable to us at a time when humanitarian action has become a critical element of the global efforts for peace, security and development. Once again, thank you for your support.