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Follow-up to the Secretary-General's United Nations Reform Proposals and Related ECOSOC Decisions

Executive Committee Meetings

Follow-up to the Secretary-General's United Nations Reform Proposals and Related ECOSOC Decisions

2 April 1998


1. During the forty-sixth and forty-seventh sessions of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, a number of conference room papers were presented to the Standing Committee on the follow-up to ECOSOC resolution 1995/561 concerning emergency response; the development of operative Memoranda of Understanding; consolidated appeals; assistance activities in countries of origin; prevention; and coordination of humanitarian assistance. These papers outlined both the follow-up within UNHCR on these issues, as well as that on an inter-agency level involving UNHCR. The inter-agency process, in particular, led to the Report of the Secretary-General on the Review of the Capacity of the United Nations System for Humanitarian Assistance (E/1997/98). Attention to this report at last year's substantive session of ECOSOC was somewhat overshadowed by the presentation of the Secretary-General's Reform Report2 on 16 July 1997. Discussion and implementation of reform in the humanitarian sector over the past year has focused primarily on the reform process initiated by the Secretary-General. A number of new initiatives were proposed and many are already being implemented. This conference room paper attempts to briefly summarize and take stock of some of the changes in light of their significance to UNHCR.

2. This paper will not address internal UNHCR reforms as these are regularly presented to the Standing Committee in separate conference room papers on the change management process within UNHCR. Rather, it will attempt to situate UNHCR within the broader United Nations system-wide reform process.

3. UNHCR has been keenly involved in the reform process and has advocated for change in the mechanisms for coping with complex emergencies, particularly in the humanitarian sector. However, while promoting integrated approaches, UNHCR has continued to emphasize the unique protection mandate of the Office. Thus, UNHCR has stressed that it remains accountable for the implementation of its mandate in this context of confronting new political, social and economic challenges, exploring new partnerships, contributing to an overall United Nations communications strategy and message, and, inevitably, doing more with fewer resources.


4. The objectives of ECOSOC resolution 1995/56 and the humanitarian section of the Secretary-General's report are to bring about a more efficient and strengthened system of humanitarian response to complex emergencies. The process has been followed up during the two years since the adoption of the resolution through the IASC-created ECOSOC Task Force and its sub-working groups (SWGs)3 The reports of the SWGs were presented to the IASC and its Working Group, resulting in a series of IASC recommendations, many of which are reflected in the report to ECOSOC referred to in paragraph 1.

5. The broader process of proposals for United Nations system-wide reform was given new impetus by the Secretary-General in early 1997 with the creation of the Steering Committee on United Nations Reform chaired by Mr. Maurice Strong. While the humanitarian chapter of the Reform Report was of a different order than the more detailed ECOSOC report, it did reflect the latter.

6. UNHCR is affected both by the new management "tools" proposed and implemented by the Secretary-General and by the key sectoral measures proposed in the humanitarian arena.


7. One major aspect of the reform has been the creation of "tools" at the Secretary General's disposal for managing the United Nations system. In this regard, several new management groups or committees were established and the post of a Deputy Secretary-General was created. UNHCR has welcomed these developments including the recent appointment of the Deputy Secretary-General as the chair of the Steering Committee on Reform and the inclusion of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on all of the committees

8. The Secretary-General has formed a Senior Management Group (SMG), at the level of heads of departments, funds and programmes, which meets on a weekly basis. The High Commissioner participates through video-conferencing. The SMG has proven to be very useful in terms of information-sharing and also should play an important role in coordinated policy-making.

9. UNHCR is a member of two of the four Executive Committees set up by the Secretary-General: the Executive Committee for Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA) and the Executive Committee for Peace and Security (ECPS). The relatively frequent meetings of both allow for improved coordination of United Nations initiatives, particularly where there is an interface between political/peace-keeping and humanitarian activities. In the ECPS, for example, it is hoped that progress will be made on further defining and developing issues such as cooperation with regional organizations, post-conflict peace-building, staff security and the role of Special Representatives of the Secretary-General in the field. Among the changes in the current humanitarian sector (discussed below) there is also the formation of a joint IASC/ECHA Secretariat which should help to avoid duplication between the two fora and to ensure proper dialogue and information-sharing between them.

10. While UNHCR is not part of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) and indeed does not belong under development coordination mechanisms, there is close contact with UNDG on relevant issues, for example rehabilitation. UNHCR is currently defining its role in respect of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) exercises underway.


11. The Secretary-General's reform lists the three core functions of the new Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) and Under Secretary-General (USG) for Humanitarian Affairs, as set out by General Assembly resolution 46/182. These are policy development and coordination; advocacy of humanitarian issues with political organs, notably the Security Council; and the coordination of emergency humanitarian response. The ERC reports directly to the Secretary-General and acts as his main adviser on humanitarian issues. The ERC remains in charge of the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP), which is to be further improved, and chairs the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), which will be further strengthened.

12. Following the presentation of the Secretary-General's Reform Report, ECHA was entrusted with setting up a working group which was tasked, in an advisory capacity, with presenting proposals for an effective system for coordinating humanitarian operations in the framework set out by the Secretary-General's Reform Report. The working group was asked to examine how the General Assembly resolution 46/182 could best be implemented given the experience of the preceding five years. UNHCR was a participant in this Working Group along with DHA, UNICEF, UNDP and WFP. The recommendations of this group, including that of benefiting from senior level secondments from IASC members, were for the main part accepted by the new ERC who took office effective 5 January 1998. On 26 January 1998, the Secretary-General's spokesperson announced that the former DHA/Office of the ERC was to be renamed the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

13. The beginning of 1998 has witnessed a new enthusiasm in terms of the relationship between the humanitarian agencies and OCHA. There has been a marked increase in consultations, as well as more ad-hoc and formal inter-agency groups to address critical issues. Areas covered include contingency planning and the strengthening of the CAP, not just in terms of preparation, but also in terms of follow-up and the humanitarian impact of sanctions. Matters addressed have been both of a situation-specific and a system-wide policy nature. On 26 March 1998, the first IASC meeting chaired by the new ERC displayed this new impetus with a productive discussion on certain situations of critical importance to ongoing humanitarian efforts, as well as on more thematic policy priorities for the remainder of the year.


14. UNHCR views as a priority, the revitalization of the IASC as an active decision-making forum for the humanitarian system. Consensus is building for its being a mechanism where the ERC consults a limited number of actors - those that are most relevant to the issue concerned - and then canvassing the wider membership of the IASC for endorsement. This entails continuous communication and dialogue to allow quick decisions on key operational issues that cut across mandates of agencies.

15. One of the core responsibilities of the ERC listed in General Assembly resolution 46/182 is that of advocacy. While the current level of humanitarian response in terms of emergency operations is less than that of the past few years, the challenge to maintain humanitarian principles has perhaps never been greater. UNHCR feels that the need for strong advocacy by the humanitarian agencies unified under the leadership of the ERC is thus imperative.

16. In the context of the IASC, UNHCR looks forward to the development of clear policies on the three field coordination options, namely the combined roles of the Resident Coordinator (RC) and Humanitarian Coordinator (HC), lead agency and the placing of the Humanitarian Coordinator within the administrative framework of one of the operational agencies.

17. UNHCR welcomes the initiative to have OCHA prioritize and take the lead on the issue of internally displaced persons this year. Progress should be made not only on the less contentious matters, such as a manual of best practices and the development of training modules, but also on the crucial aspect of decision-making and the division of labour and allocation of responsibilities.

18. The Secretary-General's Reform Report raised the issue of governance for overall humanitarian issues. It recommended the establishment of the soon to be convened humanitarian affairs segment of the substantive session of ECOSOC, which might serve for the time being as this governance mechanism. It is hoped that this new segment will address cross-cutting and action-oriented issues and themes, providing a forum for dialogue with and guidance from States.

19. UNHCR is committed to close collaboration with OCHA both in New York and Geneva. A senior UNHCR staff-member has already been identified for secondment to the Geneva office of OCHA. It is also expected that an inter-agency training programme will be established soon. This will focus on field coordination support to produce a cadre of staff in all relevant agencies who can be deployed to field coordination units.

20. On United Nations system-wide reform, it is apparent from discussions in several inter-agency fora that various agencies, as well as the United Nations Secretariat, have clearly been pursuing similar reform efforts along parallel paths, without extensive consultations amongst them. As implementation of reforms proceeds in the various United Nations organizations and agencies, paths will cross or converge, effecting the United Nations system as a whole. Revised and mutually supportive work processes in communications and information, and in administrative, financial and human resource management, may also provide links between respective agency reform initiatives and the centralized reform mechanisms which the Secretary-General has put in place in the Secretariat, further consolidating system-wide reform progress.

1 EC/46/SC/CRP.7, EC/46/SC/CRP.8, EC/46/SC/CRP.9, EC/46/SC/CRP.12, EC/46/SC/CRP.16, EC/46/SC/CRP.33, EC/46/SC/CRP.47, EC/47/SC/CRP.9

2 Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform (A/51/950)

3 The process is summarized in EC/47/SC/CRP.9, which was presented by the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) at the sixth meeting of the Standing Committee in January 1997.