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High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges; Closing Remarks by António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Speeches and statements

High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges; Closing Remarks by António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

12 December 2013

Theme - Protecting the Internally Displaced: Persisting Challenges and Fresh Thinking

Geneva, 12 December 2013

(Edited transcript)

"I am extremely grateful for the contributions made by all the participants, and I think if we tried here and now to draft conclusions, they would not really capture the enormous richness of this debate. So I will ask UNHCR's Director of International Protection, Volker Türk, with the Co-Chairs of the different breakout sessions, to prepare a summary of this Dialogue. This document will then be published as a final summing up and shared with all our partners.

"What I will say now is my contribution after having listened to everything that was said. It is not the comprehensive summing up of the debate but just what I am taking away from our discussions.

"First, I think we all recognize the need to make sure internal displacement is put higher on the international agenda in all its dimensions. There is a contradiction between the record numbers of internally displaced people today, the dramatic situation of internal displacement in several parts of the world, and the dilution of internal displacement in the political and humanitarian debate at the global level in a way that does not allow for the full commitment of the international community to address the problems of the people affected by it. To have internal displacement more prominently on the international agenda must be our common commitment.

"At the same time, I believe there was a clear indication that the UN should have a stronger institutional framework. If one looks at the mandates of Francis Deng, Walter Kälin and Chaloka Beyani, it is clear that, while those mandates have been increasingly accepted by the international community and recognized by States, the name of the mandate seems to imply a weakening of it.

"I think this contradiction needs to be overcome. The mandate should be reinforced, and at the same time, the institutional framework of the UN needs to be enhanced, both at the global and at the country level, in full respect for the mandates of other organizations - for example ICRC - and, of course, the primary role of States. This all has to do with the work of the Humanitarian Coordinators, the Resident Coordinators and effective coordination within the UN system in addressing these questions.

"Second, I have also clearly heard the will expressed that UNHCR strengthen its commitment to internal displacement as an operational actor, as a catalyst and as a team player in an enlarged partnership framework, and with a need to strengthen its field presence. Now, let me say this. There has never been an ambiguity in our commitment. It is true that the volume of resources that UNHCR has had available for internal displacement have waned in the last two or three years, mainly as a result of the dramatic development of some refugee crises. But as far as the institutional priority is concerned, reflected in the amount of un-earmarked funding channelled to internal displacement crises, the amount has not decreased. On the contrary, I am sure it has increased substantially in 2013.

"There is no ambiguity, but it is true that we've had difficulty at times because of the limits of our resource base. But we will do everything we can to make sure that our engagement is strengthened, as well as our internal institutional commitment, namely in human resources, training, and presence in the field.

"A number of dilemmas or potential contradictions were raised in the debate. I think it is important to recognize that they exist, but also to be clear on the principles with which we face them.

"First, it is essential to recognize the primary responsibility of States. It is true that, in the past, we have often witnessed a contradiction between what could be described as the national sovereignty agenda and the human rights agenda. The three mandate-holders in their presentations yesterday provided the possible solution to this contradiction, when they said essentially that sovereignty is responsibility and that the contradiction can be overcome through an understanding of sovereignty as the exercise of that responsibility in relation to citizens, in particular to internally displaced citizens.

"A second aspect is the potential contradiction between operational protection by UNHCR and others, and advocacy protection that is required to prevent human rights violations that are drivers of displacement. Indeed, this contradiction exists. In some circumstances the only way to overcome it is through a division of labour.

"We enjoy excellent cooperation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and we understand that her role and my role are different and complementary. There are things that the High Commissioner for Human Rights needs to do, and there are other things that the High Commissioner for Refugees needs to do. This should not be contradicting our complementarity, but sometimes it is impossible for the same actor to address all questions at the same time without undermining our capacity to deliver. This capacity to recognize the contradictions that exist and to surpass them through an adequate division of labour within the humanitarian and human rights system, and through an effective complementarity of our common action is a way to overcome this potential contradiction.

"Thirdly, there is the question of whether response should be based on "needs" or on "rights". To be honest, I think that the response needs to be based on both needs and rights. One of the rights that exist is that a person's needs are addressed, and one of the needs that exist is that a person's rights are respected. I don't see a contradiction. The two things need to be completely seamed together.

"A fourth dilemma that was raised in several of the debates was whether to deal with the internally displaced or whether to deal with a broader range of populations that might be affected by displacement or might be present in a situation of displacement. We need to find the commonality and the specificity, as I heard in one of the debates. This means that there are things that require a common approach and basically a comprehensive needs assessment and comprehensive strategies and responses - but there are also specific aspects of vulnerability that are created by the fact that people are displaced, and we need to have the adequate response to that. Again, I do not think this contradiction cannot be resolved. Instead, the specific problems of internally displaced persons must be addressed in the context of a more comprehensive response to the different vulnerabilities that exist in a society impacted by conflict.

"Another important point raised in the debates was that the majority of the internally displaced are in urban or, at least, in non-camp settings. Yet it is in camp contexts that the international community focuses its biggest efforts in support to States, as do States themselves in many circumstances. Here we obviously need a shift. We need to have more knowledge about and more engagement with the displaced in non-camp contexts, and this is a cultural shift the humanitarian system needs to acknowledge and to promote. We need to change the way we do business so as to take into account this reality for which we are not entirely well prepared.

"It was also clear from many interventions that a solutions approach needs to exist from the beginning of the response to an internal displacement crisis and, of course, the displaced people or the affected people are themselves the key drivers of their solutions. Solutions cannot be brought by us to them; but they will build solutions with our support. To have a solutions approach since the beginning means, for instance, that education has to be much more important even at the start of an emergency. At the same time, development actors need to be part of the solution from the start, and the coordination between development and humanitarian actors needs to be much stronger from the very beginning of a crisis response.

"There were also a certain number of concrete proposals to UNHCR.

"First, we are ready do to an evaluation of our role in the protection cluster leadership. But more than that may be needed, and so we have proposed in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee to do a 'whole of system' review of how the protection actors/clusters relate to the rest of the humanitarian architecture to see what works to enable better protection outcomes, advocacy, strategy, etc. because protection has many horizontal dimensions.

"Second, we are reviewing our IDP policy and will take into account the results of this Dialogue. The urban displacement question is very central in that, as is the linkage with development and the question of solutions, as well as the role of non-State actors and other issues raised in this debate, that are not yet fully taken into account in the present policy.

"We are also very committed to strengthening partnerships: within the UN system with OCHA and the other agencies, with NGOs, especially more strategic partnerships both with umbrella organizations and with specific NGOs, but also to strengthening partnerships with States that, of course, have the central role to play.

"In our partnership with States, it is extremely important what we can do together for the development of international law, for example developing instruments similar to the African Union Convention in other parts of the world. Our partnerships will also be very important on national law and policies, but especially on implementation and accountability, which are key questions.

"At the same time, strengthening the practical dimension of our partnership with civil society is crucial. We would, for instance, encourage the idea of having more co-leadership between UNHCR and specific NGOs that are particularly strong in a given area. Of course Governments also have their role in this, and I see scope for much more co-facilitation of clusters in the situations where we are involved.

"I also noted all the references to last year's Dialogue on Faith and Protection and the role faith-based organizations play in internal displacement. I would like to announce that our intention is to have the Dialogue next year focus on Protection at Sea. I think we are all aware that this represents one of the areas with the most dramatic protection gaps in today's world. We are starting the preparations in close cooperation with the International Maritime Organization, IOM and other organizations to have a meaningful dialogue next year on this topic.

"In closing, I would like to thank very much everyone who prepared this dialogue, the panelists and chairs of the different breakout sessions, and the interpreters and our staff. And I would like to thank the participants - the representatives of States who were present in this debate, knowing the central role of States in these situations but also accepting the contributions of NGO and civil society; the participation of civil society representatives and academia; and our colleagues from the UN system. I believe internal displacement is an area where we all want to do better, we all want to do more, and there were a number of very important ideas coming out of this discussion that will allow us all to do better, and to do more.

"Thank you very much."