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Statement of Non-Governmental Organisations on International Protection

Statement of Non-Governmental Organisations on International Protection

3 October 2002

53rd Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme
3 October 2002

Mr Chairperson,

In the NGO contribution to the General Debate the focus was almost entirely on protection concerns. We would therefore like to begin this statement by referring you to the full written statement, which has been made available at the back of the room.

In addressing the Executive Committee on this occasion, we do so mindful of the fact that there is a host of protection challenges that we face on a daily basis on which we would ordinarily wish to further elaborate. It is, however, impossible for us to do them justice in this forum.

The Executive Committee is, in essence, a forum intended to provide tools for UNHCR, States and operational partners to implement protection and strengthen its role and mandate. This we understand to be the rationale behind the adoption of ExCom Conclusions.

Today, we feel there is a need to forego our opportunity to elaborate on pressing protection concerns that we have in a number of specific places, and instead to address the question of the role that this Executive Committee is able to play in enhancing the protection of refugees.

The first ExCom Conclusion was adopted in 1975. Since that time the Executive Committee has approached its work in a spirit of cooperation seeking consensus amongst its members on providing tools and guidance for UNHCR and others to enhance refugee protection. A great deal of time and resources has been dedicated to furthering this role. In recent years, however, we have seen, on an increasing number of occasions, the consensus approach of this Committee being treated by some as an opportunity to dilute rather than strengthen protection.

ExCom Conclusions have important practical application for UNHCR and its operational partners in the field. They also have persuasive authority as soft law expressions of protection obligations. However, they cannot alter the fundamental and core obligations that we find in the Refugee Convention as well as human rights law. These are hard law obligations that remain binding on States, and cannot be diluted by weak ExCom Conclusions.

At the same time, NGOs are pleased that there have been an increasing number of occasions over recent years where we have been able to engage actively with both UNHCR and States in standard setting of one kind or another in international forums. These have included:

  • The Global Consultations on International Protection - in Tracks 1, 2 and 3 and in the development of the Agenda for Protection;
  • The informal working group on the response to the sexual exploitation in West Africa and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on sexual exploitation;
  • The annual tripartite consultations on resettlement; and
  • UNHCR's evaluation approach, involving all stakeholders including NGOs.

As NGOs we would therefore like to take this opportunity to urge the Executive Committee to acknowledge the constructive contribution that NGOs have brought to the table. We hope that this role will also be reflected in the ExCom Conclusion drafting process in future. In making this proposal, perhaps the most useful example is the role that NGOs played in the development of the Declaration of States Parties, a careful drafting exercise that brought the perspective of NGOs into the process in a very positive manner.

We would therefore urge that further discussion take place between the newly elected ExCom Bureau, UNHCR and NGOs to explore possible models in the hope that this might provide a constructive contribution to the compelling need to strengthen ExCom Conclusions and the role they play in enhancing refugee protection.