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High Commissioner's Closing Remarks to the 61st Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Palais des Nations, Geneva, 8 October 2010

Speeches and statements

High Commissioner's Closing Remarks to the 61st Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Palais des Nations, Geneva, 8 October 2010

8 October 2010

Edited version of delivered remarks

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to express my deep gratitude to the dream team forming the Executive Committee bureau over the past year - first of all, to you, Ambassador Woolcutt, and to your predecessor, Ambassador Caroline Millar, who served in the function of Chair for the first part of the year. Your efforts and support have been exceptional. I would like also to thank the Vice Chair - and incoming Chair - Mr. Hisham Badr of the delegation of Egypt, who, I believe, reflects admirably the wisdom of the oldest civilization in the world and whose already significant contribution is bound to increase next year as Chair. And, of course, to our rapporteur, Ms. Melissa Pitotti, of the delegation of the United States of America whose determination, devotion and diplomatic skills have so thoroughly impressed us all.

I offer my congratulations as well to the incoming Vice-Chair, Ambassador Jan Knutsson of Sweden, and to our next rapporteur, Ms. Sophia Lascurain Sanchez de Tagle, of Mexico. I am looking forward very much to working with you and take this early opportunity to assure you of UNHCR's complete support.

I would like to offer my thanks as well to the Secretariat and the interpreters, and to Member State delegations and representatives of regional and non-governmental organizations for their extremely useful contributions.

Even more than the substance of the debate, I was struck by the spirit of the meeting - by the feeling that collectively we are a protection team, united in our dedication to finding solutions and bettering the lives of the people we care for.

That being said, the debate was an extremely rich one and I would like to make a few comments on it.

First, delegations were unanimous in their recognition of the vital role played by host states and communities in protecting and assisting refugees. It is clear we need a new deal on burden-sharing - to ensure that the generosity of host countries and communities is matched by solidarity from the developed world. UNHCR has been involved in a number of areas: the sustainability of returns, support for local integration projects, regional development efforts in refugee impacted areas and rehabilitation of former refugee settlements. We have done our best but we have not done enough. We will never ourselves have the resources to do all that needs to be done. Accordingly, we must ensure that others get involved. Members of delegations here are also representatives of their states in the governing bodies of other multilateral organizations, including the international financial institutions and development agencies. We must mobilize these other organizations to our cause. For our part, UNHCR will, through our so-called 3rd pillar activities, be able to provide some support but we need to unlock the promise of Delivering as One and other multi-agency efforts, coordinated with bilateral donors, to ensure that the generosity of host countries and communities is supported and paralleled by donors.

Second, a large number of delegations underlined the risks that UNHCR staff face in the field and offered tributes to the courage they demonstrate. The people who work for UNHCR know the risks they are facing. Even where these are great, our people always want to do more. They never look for a pretext to abandon the mission. Even when tragedies take place and the risks are acute, they want to go on, serving those more vulnerable still. I am deeply proud of them. Your efforts to preserve the autonomy of humanitarian space are very, very important. I thank you for them and ask that you continue to make them.

Third, I want to acknowledge how encouraged I was by the debate on UNHCR's role in response to natural disasters. The comments of delegations made clear that we have a good basis for further consultations, even with caveats such as the one set out by the distinguished representative of the United States. I do not view this meeting as having taken a decision on the expanded role UNHCR has proposed but I have taken good note of the concerns expressed and appreciate that these need to be answered in an objective and convincing way. I am not particularly worried that an expanded role would divert resources away from refugees or the stateless as our budget structure guards against this and funding for natural disasters comes from different sources. Moreover, our experience to date shows that an expanded role ultimately enhances rather than reduces the resources available overall, including for refugees and the stateless. We do need to address the question of protection staff capacity and we will be preparing an action plan on this. I am highly alive to the need to ensure that whatever additional role we may take on does not undermine our core mandate for refugees and the stateless. Indeed, I will be more vigilant than anyone else on this issue. We have a very strong mandate, reflecting the complexity of refugee protection in the broader context of international relations. We do not want - and I will not allow - that mandate to be diluted. The efforts we have made to ensure respect for the integrity of our mandate should reassure Excom members in this regard. Your support, the will of our staff and the clarity of the provisions in our statute, the 1951 Convention and, with respect to statelessness, the resolution of the General Assembly, will countenance no attenuation of our mandate.

Fourth, I have noted carefully the comments by delegations on transparency, accountability and oversight. As the Deputy High Commissioner stated, UNHCR will be putting in place a new Independent Advisory and Audit Committee - the terms of reference for which will be shared with member states for further consultation. I would like to draw the attention of member states to the oversight mechanisms currently in place. These include the Inspector General's office, which conducts inspections, investigations and ad hoc inquiries; the Policy Development and Evaluation Service, for the evaluations its name suggests; the Joint Inspection Unit, a system-wide inspection service of the UN; the Ethics Office and Ombudsman's Office; the Office of Internal Oversight Services, for internal audits; and external auditors of international reputation, currently the United Kingdom Audit Office. Making sure these several functions do not overlap or lead to processes cycling endlessly from one to the other is not easy. Nor is it a challenge peculiar to UNHCR. It is a challenge for all the entities in the system. All of the individual tasking are important - and their effective coordination more important still. This is what UNHCR is committed to achieving.

Finally, I wished to thank delegations for their commitment to the commemorations planned for next year, in particular the identification of protection gaps - and responses to them - for the growing phenomenon of people on the move. Together with you and other partners, we have an opportunity to frame a new "protection compact," with new forms of collaboration, partnership and possibly even legal instruments. The Ministerial Conference represents a rare chance to address these issues and for states to consider pledges of concrete action. I would like to appeal to all states - and international organizations and UNHCR itself - to consider specific measures that would improve the quality of protection we deliver. For example, could reservations to instruments already signed be lifted? Could Conventions not yet ratified be so? In particular, the statelessness conventions. The machinery for accessions is often time-consuming, hence my entreating you now to give thought to the possibility of engaging it. How can we build up the institutions of asylum and ensure the widest replication of the many instances of strengthened refugee status determination, alternatives to detention and other good practice described by delegations at this meeting? How do we improve border management systems, to provide those working in them with the training and support they need to ensure border security does not come at the price of access to asylum? I hope states and indeed all of us will take advantage of the commemorations to pledge the new measures we need. The debate this week reinforces my belief that by the end of 2011, every one we care for will enjoy stronger protection than they do today.