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Opening Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-third Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 30 September 2002

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-third Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 30 September 2002

30 September 2002
UNHCR ExComReturn and reintegrationOngoing challengesTransforming the management cultureFundingImplementing the Agenda for ProtectionThe "UNHCR 2004" process

(Check against delivery)

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the 53rd session of the Executive Committee, and a special welcome to the four new members, Ecuador, Guinea, New Zealand and Yugoslavia. I would like to congratulate the incoming Bureau and its Chairman, Ambassador Fisseha Yimer of Ethiopia. I would also like to express my appreciation to outgoing Chairman, Ambassador Molander of Sweden, and to thank him for all his support over the last year.

It is an honour for me to introduce two special guests who will be addressing the Committee this morning - Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, and Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. Allow me to also take this opportunity to welcome the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who has joined us in the room today. Sergio is well known to many of you as a colleague and friend, and we in UNHCR look forward to strengthening our ties with his Office in the years ahead.

Return and reintegration

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The total number of people of concern to UNHCR dropped from 21.8 million in December 2000 to 19.8 million in December 2001. This overall decrease of two million shows that durable solutions are being found. Despite some new emergencies, this positive trend has continued this year, with successful returns in a number of countries.

This is encouraging news, for as you know, the search for durable solutions remains a top priority of my Office. But we should not be complacent. The challenge now is to ensure the effective reintegration of those going home. Without this, returns may not be sustainable and the whole cycle of instability and displacement may once again begin.

As I mentioned at the Standing Committee meeting in June, in post conflict situations there is a need for a much more integrated approach to what I call the "4-Rs" - Repatriation, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. Likewise, in countries hosting large refugee populations, more needs to be done to empower refugees, so that they can become self reliant and make positive contributions to the local society and economy. I have therefore advocated a new approach: "Development through Local Integration" (DLI). We have been working in close partnership with UNDP, the World Bank and other agencies - particularly UNICEF and WFP - on ways of putting these concepts into practice.

In Afghanistan, over 2 million people have gone home since March, including some 1.7 million refugees. It is a remarkable testimony to the Afghans' confidence in the new regime, and to their optimism about the future. I commend all those who have supported this operation, particularly the new Afghan authorities working under the leadership of President Karzai, and the governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan.

But while the achievements in Afghanistan are staggering, huge tasks lie ahead. Security problems still hamper returns in some areas. I remain deeply concerned about the ill-treatment of some Pashtun minorities in parts of the north. The rehabilitation and reconstruction process must be accelerated if those who have gone home are to stay, and if more are to follow. We must therefore shift our focus now from return to reintegration. I am sure that Mr. Nazeri, the Afghan Minister of Repatriation, who will address this plenary session later today, will have more to say on this.

In Africa too, many refugees have been given new hope during the last year. After decades of bitter conflict, the peace process in Angola has brought renewed optimism that many refugees and internally displaced persons will soon be able to go home. In the Horn of Africa, most Eritrean refugees in the Sudan have now gone home. After having assisted them for more than three decades, UNHCR will apply the cessation clause at the end of this year. In Sierra Leone, a successful peace process including the disarmament of former combatants has led to the return of some 190,000 refugees since last September. Here again, our challenge now is to ensure their sustainable reintegration in a country devastated by more than a decade of war and instability.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, foreign troops have started withdrawing. We are following this process closely. If the inter-Congolese dialogue succeeds, it may eventually pave the way for the return of almost 400,000 Congolese refugees from neighbouring countries.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) explicitly mentions refugees and durable solutions in its agenda. This is indeed encouraging. I am convinced that NEPAD offers a fresh opportunity to address refugee problems in Africa. Without solutions for refugees, there is little chance for peace and development in Africa. During the UN General Assembly Special Session on NEPAD in New York earlier this month, I called for a broad-based partnership of governments, humanitarian and development agencies to help bridge the gap between emergency relief and development assistance in Africa. This received a positive response from African delegations, and my Office will work closely with the NEPAD Secretariat and donor governments to examine ways to translate this into concrete plans. There will be an opportunity for further discussion of this at the Panel Discussion on NEPAD on Wednesday.

Turning to the Balkans, just a few years ago it seemed UNHCR would never leave this region. But we persisted, and there have been many positive developments. We now expect that by the end of next year, solutions will have been found for the majority of those displaced by the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia - either by returning home or by settling in their new country. The region still faces many challenges, but it is time to allow the Stability Pact and other regional mechanisms to take the lead in addressing these. My Office is therefore phasing out its activities in South-Eastern Europe. This will help free up scarce resources for use elsewhere in the world - particularly Africa.

In Asia, too, there have been positive developments. In East Timor, together with our partners, we have facilitated the return of over 220,000 refugees, and we are continuing to work with the Indonesian authorities on local settlement projects for those not willing to return. I will apply the cessation clause for East Timorese refugees as of 1 January 2003. In Sri Lanka there are also hopeful signs that a long and bitter conflict may finally be ending. Since the cease-fire agreement in February, over 180,000 internally displaced people have spontaneously returned to their villages. These returnee movements have reinforced the momentum towards peace. We need to seize this long-awaited opportunity.

Ongoing challenges

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite all the progress in finding lasting solutions, we face many ongoing challenges. In Uganda, we have once again witnessed the appalling sight of refugee settlements being attacked by armed elements. In Rwanda, I remain concerned about the imposed return of Congolese refugees, and I have taken this up with the Rwandan government.

Liberia is once again in turmoil. Over 70,000 Liberians have fled to Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone since the beginning of the year, adding to the huge number of Liberians already displaced. Armed groups have targeted not only civilians, including refugees and internally displaced people, but also humanitarian staff. Five Liberian nurses working for a UNHCR implementing partner were recently held hostage for over two months. They were finally released after UNHCR's intervention. Efforts to find a political solution to the crisis are vital, if we are to prevent further displacement and possible destabilization of the entire region. Recent events in Côte d'Ivoire are another reminder of the fragile situation in West Africa.

In West Africa, we have taken a series of remedial and preventive actions to strengthen the protection of refugee women and children against the threat of sexual exploitation and abuse. We have also actively contributed to the development of the IASC Plan of Action. The final report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services on the issue of sexual exploitation in West Africa has been presented to the Secretary-General, and will be released soon. The impression given by the consultants' draft report of widespread sexual exploitation by aid workers, and the many generalizations made in that report, have unfairly tarnished the reputation and credibility of our staff. Having said this, the issue of sexual exploitation is very real, as we suspected when we commissioned the report. As I have said all along, even one case is one too many. Indeed, we must continue to ensure a policy of zero-tolerance. It is good that there is now much more awareness of this issue. This heightened global awareness has given UNHCR and its humanitarian partners an opportunity to take a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach in dealing with sexual exploitation and abuse not only in Africa, but globally.

On Colombia, I would like to thank Ambassador Molander for helping to draw international attention to the situation during his visit there in February. With over two million internally displaced people and an increasing number of asylum seekers in neighbouring countries, UNHCR continues to face enormous challenges there. I hope that I will be able to build on Ambassador Molander's work when I visit Colombia next month.

Following the events of September 11, and in response to the growing problem of human trafficking and smuggling, a number of States have strengthened measures to combat illegal migration and the misuse of asylum systems. While UNHCR supports measures to combat misuse of asylum systems, I am concerned that in some cases indiscriminate measures have led to non-admission, denial of access to asylum procedures, and even incidents of refoulement.

I am particularly concerned about the problem of detention of asylum seekers. While many States have been able to manage their asylum systems without detentions, a more general trend towards increased use of detention - often on a discriminatory basis - is worrying. I am also concerned that some parts of the media and a number of politicians have continued to demonize asylum seekers and refugees, particularly during election campaigns. This has further undermined public support for their reception.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now turn to internal management issues. First of all, I would like to pay tribute to Maureen Connelly, my Inspector General, who will soon be retiring after a distinguished career with the organization. In her place, I have appointed Dennis McNamara, who is well known to many of you as our previous Director of the Department of International Protection, after which he served as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General first in Kosovo and then in East Timor.

I have asked Dennis to review the structure and priorities of the Inspector General's Office, both internally and through discussions with governments and NGOs. This review may include an assessment of some regional or sub-regional refugee situations, with a focus on protection and solutions. It will also assess how UNHCR might benefit more from the expertise and capacity of others. The Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit will assist in this.

Following the departure in April of the Controller, Gunilla Hesselmark, I divided the Division of Resource Management into two divisions: one focusing on the management of financial resources, and the other on human resources. As Controller and Director of the newly created Division of Financial and Supply Management, I have appointed Saburo Takizawa, previously the Controller at UNIDO. I am counting on him to exercise strong leadership in sharpening UNHCR's fiscal discipline. As Director of the re-created Division of Human Resources Management, I have appointed Werner Blatter, previously our Regional Co-ordinator for South-Eastern Europe, who I have asked to focus on austerity and performance in personnel management.

I have also strengthened some sections at Headquarters, to enhance our protection and durable solutions work. In the Department of International Protection, I have established a new Protection Information Section, which will provide information on countries of origin and which will assume some of the functions previously carried out by the Centre for Documentation and Research. In line with my aim of enhancing resettlement not only as a tool of international protection but also as a durable solution, I have engaged a senior consultant to assist the Resettlement Section in ensuring an effective bridge between policy development at Headquarters and implementation in the field. In the Division of Operational Support, I have established a dedicated "Project Profile" team, to work on the development of new procedures, guidelines and technology systems for registration. Improving and modernizing our registration systems remains one of my top priorities.

Earlier this year I set up a Task Force to review UNHCR partnerships - a vital aspect of all our activities. Work has now begun on systematic follow-up to the various recommendations that were made. We are continuing our efforts to revitalize our links with traditional partners in the UN such as UNICEF and WFP, as well as other partners such as ICRC, and to contribute positively to co-ordination mechanisms through OCHA and the IASC. We are also working to strengthen our links with other UN agencies, NGOs, development actors, human rights groups, and regional organizations such as the newly created African Union. The presence of the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States here today is further evidence of our eagerness to build new partnerships and to strengthen existing ones.

Transforming the management culture

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome the Secretary-General's recent report on UN reform, with its emphasis on transforming the Organization's management culture - traditionally hierarchical and rigid - to one that stimulates new ideas and the vigorous exchange of ideas, irrespective of grade, seniority and tenure. My decision to re-create a separate Division for Human Resources Management reflects my own commitment to improve staff management in UNHCR.

There are a number of key issues that need to be addressed by this new Division. First, we need new blood in the organization. We must recruit more young professionals, and at the same time improve the gender balance and geographical diversity.

Second, we must ensure quality performance. Our staff are there to serve the refugee cause; UNHCR is not there to serve its staff. Not all staff currently working for the organization should be retained indefinitely. We therefore need to reassess our existing policy of granting indefinite contracts. Pending this assessment, I have ordered a freeze.

Third, we need better management of the phenomenon of staff-in-between-assignments. In an organization with duty stations around the world and a strict rotation policy, there will always be a number of people between jobs. This is understandable; but unless the system is managed carefully, it can lead to considerable waste and inefficiency. Rotation is one of the strengths of the organization, and it must be preserved. At the same time, we must find ways to ensure more cost effectiveness in our human resource policies. As a first step in dealing with this issue, I recently issued new instructions aimed at avoiding situations where staff members remain without an assignment for a protracted period. All those who are not formally assigned to a post should be deployed on short-term missions or given temporary assignments. I will not tolerate situations where staff remain idle, even if it is only a limited number.

Our staff are our most valuable asset. We must invest in them, motivate them, and treat them with the respect that they deserve. At the same time, we must not shy away from difficult decisions. I am committed to introducing the necessary improvements, in line with the UN Staff Rules and Regulations and in close consultation with the Staff Council and the various joint staff-management bodies.

The new UNHCR Code of Conduct was recently finalized. The Code is intended to guide staff members in their work, and to assist them in dealing with the difficult ethical and moral dilemmas with which they are often confronted. It explains and reinforces the standards of conduct that we are all expected to adhere to under the UN Charter and the Staff Regulations and Rules. It reminds staff that their effectiveness depends on their ability to uphold the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct at all times. Since UNHCR staff often find themselves in positions of power in relation to refugees and other persons of concern, the Code is also meant to help staff to recognize and avoid any behaviour which may be considered abusive or exploitative.

On 4 September, together with the Chairman of the UNHCR Staff Council, I personally signed the Code, as did the members of my Senior Management Committee. This demonstration of commitment at the highest level is intended to send a message about the importance we place in this document. Between now and early next year all staff will be asked to sign the Code. Managers have been informed that they have a particular responsibility to make sure that those who answer to them are familiar with the Code and honour it. They are also responsible for ensuring that our beneficiaries and partners know about it.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now turn briefly to our current funding situation. First of all, I would like to thank donors for their support for the Supplementary Programme in Afghanistan. We are now US$ 23 million short of our target of US$ 271 million for this programme. I am counting on your continued support to reach this target. I am also grateful to donors for their positive response to the Emergency Appeal for Liberian refugees.

In addition to the US$ 23 million shortfall for Afghanistan, we still need to receive around US$ 80 million for the Annual Programme Budget. For much of this, positive indications of contributions have already been received, but this has not yet been the case for some US$ 25 million of this. I would therefore like to make a plea for promises to be translated into cash as soon as possible, and for you to go the extra mile to cover the US$ 25 million shortfall.

As we enter the fourth quarter, I am obliged to take additional steps to address this shortfall by reducing the obligation levels. This will entail reductions in staff administrative costs, procurement and operational expenditure. Since we already reduced the 2002 budget by US$ 86 million in the middle of this year as a result of the difficult financial situation, these additional reductions will have further severe consequences for refugees. Details of the impact of earlier budgetary reductions are described in a note which I sent out on 23 September.

Administrative support costs for the implementation of programmes funded under the Supplementary Budget are significant. Since they are not foreseen in the Annual Budget, they represent a kind of subsidy from the Annual Budget programmes to the Supplementary Budget programmes. To address this, we are considering the possibility of attributing a small percentage of Supplementary Budget contributions to the Annual Budget. We will be consulting you further on this.

For 2003, I hope our efforts to broaden our funding base through complementary sources of funding will bring further results. Together with UNDP, the World Bank and other partners, we will continue to look into ways of gaining greater access to development funds for reintegration activities and programmes aimed at promoting self-reliance among refugees. I have appointed a senior staff member to co-ordinate our work on identifying complementary sources of funding, and a consultant to promote the funding of "4-Rs" and "DLI". We will also continue to step up our private sector fundraising activities. We have already seen much progress in this area. For example, the private sector has been the fifth largest contributor to the Afghan Supplementary Programme.

For future large-scale emergencies, I remain concerned about the lack of flexibility in our current financial system. One of the key components for emergency preparedness is the availability of up-front financial resources. Fund-raising for that takes time. In the past, UNHCR had a special "Emergency Fund" for this purpose. This was later subsumed under the overall Programme Reserve. What shall we do?

Implementing the Agenda for Protection

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This session of the Executive Committee is expected to endorse the Agenda for Protection. Together with the Ministerial Declaration of December last year, this is one of the most important outcomes of the Global Consultations process.

I see the Agenda as a synthesis of UNHCR's protection mandate, carefully defined in relation to the specific challenges of today's world. As you know, the three main themes of the Agenda are the need for better protection, more durable solutions, and improved burden sharing.

The time has now come for action. We all know that the Agenda is not a legally binding instrument. It is not law. But neither should it simply be seen as a wish list. It represents a broad consensus on issues where action is needed. I have already asked senior managers to ensure that the Agenda informs their priorities and planning for 2003 and beyond. Indeed, the 2003 budget and its stated objectives already contain much to further the Agenda.

But protection work today demands new tools, as well as new multilateral commitments to ensure burden sharing and durable solutions. This requires new strategies, new thinking and new partnerships. We must build on the Global Consultations process by enhancing international co-operation and burden sharing.

Only a few years ago, a number of governments were questioning the continuing relevance of the 1951 Refugee Convention. In light of this, it is significant that there was such unanimous reaffirmation of the centrality and validity of the Convention at last December's Ministerial Meeting here in Geneva. But having said this, it has become clear that on its own the Convention does not suffice. To ignore this is to fundamentally misinterpret the outcome of the Ministerial Meeting. What is needed is a new approach, which I call the "Convention Plus". By that I mean supplementing the Convention in areas that it does not adequately cover.

The "Plus" concerns special agreements for improved burden sharing, with countries in the North and South working together to find durable solutions for refugees. It concerns comprehensive plans of action in cases of massive outflows. It concerns agreements on "secondary movements", defining the roles and responsibilities of countries of origin, transit, and potential destination. It concerns better targeting of development assistance in regions of origin, helping refugee hosting countries to facilitate local integration, and enhancing post-conflict reintegration. And it concerns multilateral commitments for resettlement.

I will circulate to this meeting a paper providing details on the "Forum" that I intend to establish. Such a Forum, consisting of a group of experts, could provide a useful framework for the multilateral development of special agreements. It would report to each session of the Standing Committee, and yearly to the Executive Committee on progress made.

The "UNHCR 2004" process

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the Secretary-General's new report on UN reform, he stresses that the need for a strong multilateral institution has never been more acutely felt than it is today, in the era of globalization. This is true for the UN as a whole. It is equally true for UNHCR.

With this in mind, one year ago I initiated the "UNHCR 2004" process. This process is specifically about strengthening UNHCR as a multilateral institution. It involves a review of the Office's capacity to carry out its mandate. The idea is to report on this before 2004, when UNHCR's current mandate comes up for renewal, with the aim of implementing it in the next term.

The process has been carried forward by a small team working under my direction. Over the last year, the team has produced various interim reports and recommendations. These deal with the evolution of UNHCR's governance structure, its position within the UN system, funding mechanisms, and the nexus between asylum and migration. The team also looked at ways of better positioning the Office to respond to the challenges of modernity, and how best to achieve the goals and objectives set out in the Agenda for Protection.

A resolution to extend UNHCR's mandate for another five years, beginning on 1 January 2004, will be presented to the General Assembly in the coming weeks. In this resolution, I will be called upon to present a report to the General Assembly when it meets next year.

Our work is being conducted in a phased manner. Phase I of this process entailed research work and the drawing up of initial options and recommendations by the "UNHCR 2004" team. Phase II is just beginning. This involves close consultation with managers throughout the organization to formulate specific proposals, and to ensure collective ownership. Phase III will begin early next year, and will involve further consultations, particularly with the Executive Committee, leading to the presentation of my report to the General Assembly.

In clarifying my vision for UNHCR's future, the first aspect concerns the governance structure of UNHCR and ways of enabling it to grow gradually into a truly multilateral organization. If we succeed in developing credible special agreements on burden sharing and durable solutions, it could be possible to convince more and more countries to accede to the Convention. Thus renewed efforts to get States to accede to the Convention go hand in hand with special agreements on burden sharing and durable solutions. Refugee movements have become a globalized phenomenon, and therefore states from all regions should participate in addressing the issue. If successful, today's limited "coalition of the willing" can grow into a real World Refugee Assembly.

In parallel, there is a need to address the issue of UNHCR's position within the UN system. Currently, UNHCR is boxed in as a purely "humanitarian" agency. Yet UNHCR's work also relates to prevention, conflict resolution, peace building and development. To achieve durable solutions in accordance with UNHCR's mandate, requires close co-operation and strengthened partnerships with the UN's development actors, the Bretton Woods institutions and the peace and security pillars of the UN.

Another specific issue on which I have already tried to provide greater clarity regards our work with internally displaced persons. We have provided Kenzo Oshima's Office and the Secretary-General with a detailed list of those internally displaced persons whom we consider to be of concern to UNHCR, and we look forward to further dialogue with our partners on this matter. I have shared with you a note on this.

To be a truly multilateral institution, UNHCR also needs a broader financial basis, so that it can respond effectively to the demands being placed on it by the international community. Time and again, we speak about predictability. But how can we make progress on this? The original decision made in 1950, as reflected in UNHCR's Statute, was that administrative expenses should be covered from the assessed contributions of the UN Regular Budget, and that operations should be funded on a voluntary basis. I consider this to have been a wise decision. However, since then the reality has been different. We currently receive some US$ 20 million from the UN Regular Budget, whereas some US$ 250 million - or 30 percent of the whole annual budget - might be considered expenses related to administration, according to standard UN definitions.

At an appropriate moment, I will share with the Executive Committee an initial study carried out by the "UNHCR 2004" team, explaining the rationale for combining voluntary contributions and "base line" contributions. This study proposes a combination of 50 percent "base line" and 50 percent voluntary contributions, following a model used by a number of UN organisations. Having listened to the opinions of members of the Executive Committee, I have the impression that there is not sufficient support for this. At the same time, I believe it should be possible to come up with an alternative way of covering the organization's basic costs, as envisaged in the Statute. I will, at a later stage, come back to you with more specific suggestions on this. Meanwhile, my most immediate concern is the 2002 and the 2003 budget. I cannot accept the continuing practice that the Executive Committee at large does not fund the budget which it approves every year.

The "UNHCR 2004" process has also given much thought to the interrelation between voluntary and forced migration. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that there is a need to address the broad spectrum of international migration in a concerted, comprehensive and forward looking manner. I have therefore already been working with Brunson McKinley, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to take stock of the co-operation between our two organizations, and to examine how we could form a strategic alliance to address global realities more effectively. We have recently reinvigorated our consultations at the senior level, as well as through our joint Action Group on Asylum and Migration. We have agreed to work on clarifying our respective roles, in order to achieve greater coherence and cost effectiveness. We both intend to significantly strengthen our co-operation. Apart from improving our operational linkages, I hope that we will move towards a more structured strategic partnership, especially where asylum and migration issues intersect.

These are all issues that require further thought. Some are extremely complex, but still we should try. I call on all of you to consider these proposals in a constructive manner.

Finally, I would like to emphasize that the link between the "UNHCR 2004" process and the Agenda for Protection is clear: a better positioned and more effective UNHCR will strengthen our capacity to achieve the goals and objectives spelt out in the Agenda for Protection. I hope that you will work with me to refine this vision as we move forward to achieve these goals.

Thank you.