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Closing remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the forty-seventh session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 11 October 1996

Speeches and statements

Closing remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the forty-seventh session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 11 October 1996

11 October 1996

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Having come to the end of this year's session of the Executive Committee, let me first of all say how substantive and stimulating I have found the contributions made by all of you who took the floor. Our deliberations seem to have greatly benefited from the work undertaken by the Standing Committee. While many of your interventions touched upon a wide range of issues, I was particularly pleased to note that they also kept the annual theme in focus.

Many speakers explained the successes and the difficulties their countries are experiencing in achieving durable solutions for refugees, whereas others approached the subject from a more general perspective. In both cases I have learned enormously from your guidance. Perhaps most central was the insight that forced displacement, increasingly complex as it is, must be addressed in a comprehensive manner. The term "comprehensive" being a broad one, let me try to disaggregate it on the basis of your rich observations.

Repeatedly we were reminded that in order to solve forced displacement in a lasting manner, the political as well as economic root causes, including poverty, cannot be ignored. Finding the right balance between ending impunity and forgiveness is another pre-requisite for genuine solutions and reconciliation, and demands increased attention to the building of fair systems of justice. It has also become very clear that both protection and solutions can suffer, if the negative international security dimension of some refugee situations is not addressed.

Comprehensive also means engaging all countries concerned as well as the international community. As some of you have observed, more attention is often paid to the often onerous responsibilities of asylum States than to those of refugee producing States to re-admit their citizens and to create the conditions for doing so in peace and with full respect for their human rights. I am extremely worried that when people have deliberately been chased away, such as in parts of Bosnia, their return remains blocked even in peace time. Let me also highlight my concern about the growing number of situations in which refugees fall victim to disputes over their nationality, and become de facto stateless persons for whom solutions risk being elusive.

I very much appreciated the insight expressed by many delegations that we should sometimes strive for a clustering of solutions, another aspect of being comprehensive. Although voluntary repatriation remains undoubtedly the preferred solution, combining it with local integration and resettlement could move us forward faster than is often the case now. I felt particularly encouraged by the example set by Mexico and Guatemala on behalf of the remaining Guatemalan refugees. Many of you rightly hailed the CPA. In resettlement, my Office is already trying to enlarge the thus far limited circle of interested countries in order to enhance and diversify opportunities for the implementation of this solution.

In the implementation of voluntary repatriation, I am grateful that you acknowledged the link between rehabilitation and repatriation on the one hand, and consolidating peace and resuming development on the other. I agree that UNHCR's humanitarian rehabilitation efforts must dovetail with development planning, and that we must ensure early on that they will be sustained once we leave. The scope and duration of UNHCR's rehabilitation and returnee protection activities must be delineated, and reflect the best use of the expertise and resources of our partners.

Let me therefore reassure you once again that my Office has a direct interest in early and effective coordination, and is committed to it, in the context of large scale reintegration programmes as much as in emergency response. We agree with the importance of the IASC consultative process, but we hope that you will also appreciate that inter-agency coordination on the ground is the real test.

I was pleased to note the emphasis placed by several delegations on the contributions UNHCR can make, in cooperation with relevant other actors, to local capacity building. Viewing it also as an important tool in prevention, this is precisely why it figures so prominently in the Programme of Action adopted at the so-called CIS Conference of last May.

Mr Chairman, allow me to make a few additional points concerning the discussions we have had. I should like to echo one crucial observation: while we try to actively pursue openings for solutions, international burden sharing remains essential to help to reduce the negative economic and ecological impact of refugee influxes in the developing world, and increasingly to sustain protection.

In view of the pressures on asylum, I was equally encouraged by the many expressions of support for the inseparable link between international protection and the pursuit of solutions. While attuned to each situation, protection standards must guide the dire journey of refugees, from the moment they are in need of safety until the time that they are back home or can settle elsewhere, in peace and with their basic needs met. I am grateful in particular for the clear re-affirmation of the principle of non-refoulement. Several speakers highlighted anew the plight of uprooted women and children. My Office will pursue the informal Consultations on measures to ensure protection to all who need it, especially on the subject of temporary protection.

Let me use this occasion to welcome the accession to the 1951 Convention of Kyrgyzstan, three days ago. Other good news is that Guatemala and Brazil have acceded to the Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, that Bosnia and Herzegovina has ratified the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, and that Azerbaijan acceded to both of these Conventions.

I highly appreciate your strong support for UNHCR's change process. Close management-staff consultations will be especially important in the coming period. I can assure you that we will use your advice and examine your observations. A fundamental objective of Delphi is to ensure the effective integration of protection at all levels. We will do our utmost to balance delegation and decentralization, on the one hand, with strengthened oversight and a streamlined yet more effective headquarters, on the other. We will act on the recommendations contained in the oversight reports which you have discussed in the Standing Committee and this week.

Mr Chairman, one of its major objectives being to stimulate UNHCR's search for solutions, Project Delphi leads me back to our annual theme. Listening to so many speakers, I feel enormously encouraged. The spirit of solutions was in the air. Yet, the statements of delegates from the Great Lakes region in Africa have highlighted how explosive the Rwandan refugee situation has become. I welcome the new sense of urgency which permeated the consultations in the past few days, and I am pleased that this has led to some progress regarding our new proposals for solutions.

Elsewhere too, I believe that UNHCR can and must make a useful contribution in encouraging dialogue which concentrates on the human dimension of refugee problems. Too often, solutions remain blocked because this type of dialogue is absent. At the same time, though, we should all be conscious of the limits of humanitarian action. It should moreover not become more politicized than it already is. Problems which are essentially political, cannot be prevented or resolved by humanitarian means.

Mr Chairman, this session of the Executive Committee has reinforced my belief that refugee problems are not insoluble. It has inspired me even more to continue with the consultations on involuntary displacement in the region of Central and South West Asia, which many of you have mentioned.

I wish to thank you, Mr Chairman, for the able manner in which you steered us through five days of hard work. I am immensely grateful for the support delegations have shown for the work of UNHCR, and for the appreciation of my staff in particular. Together with our sister agencies and the NGO community, let us continue our partnership to solve the problems of the millions of uprooted women, men and children.

Thank you.