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Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 3 November 2003

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 3 November 2003

3 November 2003
Third Committee

(Check against delivery)

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Soon after I became High Commissioner almost three years ago, I set up a process known as "UNHCR 2004". Its aim was to review how UNHCR is situated within the United Nations system vis-à-vis States and partners, and to determine how it could be better positioned to carry out its mandate.

The result of this process is a report which I have submitted to the General Assembly on "Strengthening the Capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees to Carry Out its Mandate". I was guided by an intense process of consultations. A draft was shared with the Secretary-General and relevant bodies within the United Nations system, as well as with UNHCR's Executive Committee. The final report reflects their comments.

As noted in General Assembly Resolution 57/186 of December 2002, the General Assembly decided to consider at its fifty-eighth session the proposals that I have put forward in this report. As you will see, the report supports the goals, objectives and commitments contained in the United Nations Millennium Declaration as well as the Secretary-General's efforts to strengthen the United Nations system. I trust that you will support the proposals that I have put forward, and I count on your governments to endorse the proposed General Assembly Resolution resulting from the report. This will help to strengthen UNHCR's multilateral character and to ensure that it is adequately equipped to carry out its mandate in the context of a changing international political environment.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to highlight some of the key issues in the report.

Concerning UNHCR's governance structure, deliberations during the "UNHCR 2004" process centered on how to give a higher profile to the refugee issue. One of the outcomes is a recognition that the time limitation on UNHCR's mandate is anachronistic and no longer reflects today's realities. The proposal to remove the time limitation should be seen as a way of strengthening the multilateral approach to managing global challenges relating to refugees, returnees, internally displaced persons, those affected by statelessness and other persons of concern to my Office. I am confident that the removal of the time limitation will translate into a stronger commitment from States to UNHCR's mandate, thus leading to improved standards of care and protection and opening up more opportunities for finding durable solutions.

The initiative of convening regular ministerial meetings of all States Parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol is also aimed at strengthening UNHCR's multilateral character. Likewise, the proposal to streamline the reporting requirements is aimed at enabling my Office to bring the refugee issue to ECOSOC and the General Assembly in a more meaningful manner.

Concerning categories of person of concern to UNHCR, the primary function of my Office remains that of providing protection, assistance and durable solutions for refugees. In line with UNHCR's Statute, however, the scope of UNHCR's activities is wider than this and often involves programmes to assist other categories of people whose lives have been affected by violence and persecution, such as returnees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and certain categories of internally displaced persons.

In many of today's conflicts, there are more people fleeing to places within their own country than across international borders. Their situation is often extremely precarious. While primary responsibility for ensuring their protection lies with national and local authorities, in many cases - particularly where a vacuum of authority exists - other agencies including UNHCR have an important protection and assistance role. Indeed, a series of General Assembly resolutions over a period of several decades have encouraged UNHCR's involvement in situations of internal displacement.

My Office supports the collaborative approach to addressing the needs of the internally displaced and the special role of the Emergency Relief Coordinator. As mentioned in the report, however, I am concerned that the collaborative approach often leaves too much to be decided on an ad hoc basis. More needs to be done to strengthen this approach, to ensure more rapid agreement on the inter-agency division of labour, better planning, faster operational deployment and improved funding.

UNHCR will continue to work closely with the Emergency Relief Coordinator on ways of ensuring adequate and timely UN responses to situations of internal displacement. My Office is particularly well placed to play a significant role where the protection needs of internally displaced persons mirror those of refugees. Over the last year, my Office has been focusing increasingly on post-conflict situations, where there are clear linkages between repatriation of refugees and returns of internally displaced persons.

My report also stresses the importance of enhancing prospects for finding durable solutions for refugees. I continue to insist that the search for durable solutions must become more systematic and must begin at the outset of each new refugee crisis. With this in mind, UNHCR has developed, in close cooperation with its partners, a Framework for Durable Solutions. This consists of three elements: first, the promotion of Development Assistance for Refugees ("DAR") through better targeting of such assistance to countries and areas hosting large numbers of refugees over protracted periods; second, the establishment of "4Rs" programmes in post-conflict situations, aimed at ensuring an integrated approach to repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction; and third, the promotion, in those cases where local integration of refugees is a viable option, of a strategy of Development through Local Integration ("DLI"). These initiatives have already led to concrete projects in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Zambia.

One of the indirect outcomes of both "UNHCR 2004" process and the Global Consultations on International Protection that ended last year is the "Convention Plus" initiative. Reaffirming the continuing centrality of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the "Convention Plus" initiative is about strengthening and complementing these instruments through the development of multilateral special agreements aimed at enhancing burden sharing and sharpening the focus on achieving durable solutions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A dominant theme of my report is the need for effective coordination and partnerships. With a growing understanding of the important interconnections among peace and security, humanitarian action, human rights and development policies, it is clear that UNHCR needs to create stronger linkages both within and outside the United Nations system.

I have made a number of proposals on enhancing linkages between UNHCR and others in the United Nations system. Indeed, UNHCR can play an important role in promoting activities aimed at finding solutions and ensuring secure environments for refugees, returnees and other persons of concern. It is vital for UNHCR to enhance its interaction with the Office of the Secretary-General, the General Assembly, ECOSOC and the Security Council.

My Office also needs to strengthen its engagement with the peace and security pillars of the United Nations - particularly the Departments of Political Affairs and Peace-keeping Operations. There is now widespread recognition of the link between forced population displacement and efforts to promote international peace and security. Precisely because of the cross-border element, refugee movements often have an impact on regional stability. Likewise, in post-conflict situations, the success of repatriation operations can also have an impact on any peace process.

Within the humanitarian pillar of the United Nations, OCHA has a key coordination role. I look forward to working closely with the new United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, to improve strategies aimed at ensuring better preparedness, timelier interventions and more comprehensive delivery of services and solutions, both for refugees and for internally displaced persons.

UNHCR also needs to further strengthen its cooperation with development actors. As the Secretary-General pointed out in his recent Report on the Work of the Organization, there is often a wide gap between the rhetoric of inclusion and the reality of exclusion. In the case of refugees and returnees, until now they have all too often not been fully included in the development agenda. It is time to reverse this. UNHCR recently joined the United Nations Development Group, and I hope this will help us to ensure that durable solutions for refugees and other persons of concern to my Office are firmly on the development agenda.

Concerning the nexus between asylum and migration, my Office will also continue forging new partnerships to ensure that the rights of refugees and asylum seekers are respected and that their special needs are met within the broader context of migration management. A major challenge for countries today is the management of complex flows of refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants and other people on the move. Strategies are needed that distinguish fairly and effectively between people with well-founded fears of persecution and those with economic or other motivations for seeking entry. The Secretary-General has himself identified international migration as a priority issue for the United Nations. UNHCR will therefore continue to strengthen its partnership with the International Organization for Migration and other relevant actors.

My Office will also continue to strengthen its relations with NGO partners. This year we introduced a number of new measures to enable NGOs to provide greater input into UNHCR's policy making.

On funding, it has become clear that the existing rather ad hoc approach still reflects the reality of the 1950s, when UNHCR was dealing with a specific refugee problem in Europe alone, and when it mission was meant to be time limited. Our funding structure needs to be adapted to UNHCR's worldwide responsibilities and the expectations placed on it by the international community. While we will continue with voluntary contributions, I have therefore proposed new measures to broaden our funding base and diversify its sources, including through the private sector. I have also proposed a 30 percent Base Level model for those States that wish to apply it.

I appreciate the generosity of those countries that continue to host large refugee populations. I am also grateful for the continued support provided to UNHCR by its main cash donors. At the same time, it is clear that our current reliance on a small group of donors for the majority of our funding is both unhealthy and unsustainable. At present, eight donors continue to provide over 80% of our funds. This runs contrary to my aim of strengthening UNHCR's multilateral character. We must change this.

I have also proposed an incremental increase in UNHCR's share of the United Nations Regular Budget. This is in line with UNHCR's Statute as agreed upon here in 1950.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Another key issue for us today is the increased danger to which humanitarian personnel are being exposed. This has been given renewed focus as a result of the attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August and the more recent attack on the ICRC Headquarters in Baghdad, as well as numerous other attacks on humanitarian personnel in the last year - not only in Iraq but in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The recent report of the Independent Panel on the Safety and Security of UN Personnel in Iraq has made it clear that much needs to be done to strengthen our security procedures. But security is not only about security procedures and UNSECOORD; it is about having staff in the field that are well trained and able to communicate effectively with local interlocutors, to enhance understanding of the humanitarian principles that guide our work. It must be remembered also that ultimately the answers lie not only in tightening up our own rules but in improving the political environment in which we work.

In Iraq, our strength lies in our ability to communicate with the people who need us, to work through local authorities, and to build up local capacities. If we cannot work with the Iraqi people and with Iraqi authorities, then we cannot work there at all. For UNHCR, our priority now is therefore to help strengthen the capacities of Iraqi authorities and above all to support the work of the newly appointed Iraqi Minister for Displacement and Migration.

Finally, a few words about some of our other key operations.

In Africa, much of our focus is on the repatriation of refugees to Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and there are hopeful signs that over the next year large-scale repatriation to Liberia will become possible. We also continue to respond to new emergencies, as in the case of some 65,000 refugees who recently fled to Chad from the Sudan. This is in contrast to the situation in southern Sudan, where I am pleased to note the peace process continues to gather momentum. This may eventually pave the way for the return of large numbers of Sudanese refugees and internally displaced persons.

In Asia, finding long-term solutions for displaced Afghans - and particularly for the large number of Afghans who remain in Iran and Pakistan - remains a priority. More than 2.2 million Afghan refugees have returned to their homes since December 2001, and we expect significant further returns next year. We also have an important return operation in Sri Lanka, and in Nepal I have announced new measures to assist in finding solutions for over 100,000 Bhutanese people who remain in camps.

Other key areas which will continue to demand our active engagement in 2004 include the Northern Caucasus, where displaced Chechens in Ingushetia have recently come under pressure to return to Chechnya, and Colombia, where the number of internally displaced persons has risen in the last year to well over two million.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to end by thanking the Secretary-General, who recently proposed to the General Assembly that my own mandate as High Commissioner be extended. I enjoy a particularly close relationship with the Secretary-General, which is why I have agreed to stay on for two more years.

Thank you.