|For information only - not an official document.|
|3 October 2000|
Secretary-General Addresses Executive Committee of UNHCR
Praises Work of UNHCR in Decade of Extraordinary Challenges
NEW YORK, 2 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as delivered to the fifty-first session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner for Refugees, held at the Palais des Nations on 2 October.
Let me begin by thanking you, Sadako [outgoing High Commissioner Sadako Ogata], for the profoundly moving and thought-provoking statement we have just heard. You have raised several very important issues, which I hope will be considered very seriously both within the United Nations system and more widely by the Member States.
And let me also lend my voice to millions of the world's most unfortunate people, to thank you for the 10 years of heroic service you have given them.
It has been a decade of extraordinary challenges. We have seen the nature of conflict change. Civilian populations have become both the weapons and the targets of war.
In some places, political leaders have appealed to various forms of group identity -- linguistic, religious or cultural -- and have encouraged groups to fear and hate each other.
Once again such fear and hatred has taken hold, and once it has taken hold, the presence of people with the "wrong" identity comes to be seen as a problem, or even a deadly danger. And so people are displaced no longer casually, but deliberately, with carefully calculated brutality.
We have seen this happen in the former Yugoslavia, in parts of the former Soviet Union, and in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
In other places conflict took hold without such "ethnic" factors being paramount. It was a legacy in part of colonial rule or foreign occupation; and in part simply of the resentments and appetites that build up when an economy is utterly mismanaged by a weak and corrupt State. Especially, perhaps, when there are rich natural resources to be exploited in a desperately poor country.
In all these conflicts, fought mainly with light weapons, pitched battles between opposing armies are the exception. Warlords find greater advantage, both political and economic, in terrorizing the civilian population.
The chances for anyone to make an honest living get less and less. The "rational" courses of action are soon narrowed down to two.
The young and able-bodied, including the very young, find themselves engaged in the only viable economic activity left, namely war. The rest flee, if they can.
Sometimes they flee across national frontiers. Sometimes not. To them it makes little difference. They may not even know which country they are in, when they first arrive in a place of refuge.
Those who are still in their own country are in just as desperate need of protection and relief as those who are not. And those who have crossed a border sometimes find themselves better off than the "host" population which gives them refuge, but which does not benefit from the same assistance programmes.
In such a time, my dear Sadako, it is not surprising that UNHCR has faced challenges that are unprecedented both in their scale and in their nature.
Your office was set up 50 years ago to ensure that those forced by persecution to leave their own States would receive from other States the legal protection to which they were entitled.
Today it has become a massive relief agency -- an archipelago of suffering, but also of human solidarity -- stretching around the world and ministering to a population much larger than that of many of our Member States.
And yet you have neither sovereign authority nor regular budget.
You are expected to keep order without weapons, in camps which are often used as bases by violent resistance movements bent on return or revenge.
You are also expected to provide millions of people with a social safety net, if not a fully fledged welfare state, and to finance it by seeking voluntary donations from States that have many other claims and pressures on their resources.
You are accused, sometimes, of doing the ethnic cleansers' work for them -- when your mandate requires you to provide safe transport and places of refuge for those who face massacre or rape if they were to stay where they are.
And you are accused, at other times, of narrow legalism -- when your mandate does not allow you to offer the same protection to the internally displaced as to those defined as refugees by international law.
Yet in those places where you have been given a special mandate to help the internally displaced, the extra responsibility is seldom matched by extra funds. This problem demands more thought, and above all more effective action, from all of us, with more rapid and reliable coordination.
Francis Deng -- most of you would know him -- led the way with his excellent Guiding Principles. And now, as you know, Dennis McNamara has been appointed, within the Secretariat, to work with UNHCR and its sister agencies to ensure that the displaced are treated with the respect and dignity the world owes them.
But whatever solutions he or anyone else comes up with, we shall not escape the conclusion that you reached, Sadako, in a very thoughtful speech on the subject in July, and I quote: "Making a real difference for internally displaced people will require a very substantial and sustained commitment of resources."
Too often, when donor governments decide which of your activities to fund, there is a flagrant political arrière-pensée. Your humanitarian work is used, or rather abused, as a substitute for political action to address the root causes of mass displacement.
You have become part of a "containment strategy", by which this world's more fortunate and powerful countries seek to keep the problems of the poorer at arm's length.
How else can one explain the disparity between the relatively generous funding for relief efforts in countries close to the frontiers of the prosperous world, and the much more parsimonious effort made for those who suffer in remoter parts of the world such as Asia or Africa?
And how else can one explain the contrast between the generosity which poor countries are expected to show, when hundreds of thousands of refugees pour across their frontiers, and the precautions taken to ensure that as few asylum seekers as possible ever reach the shores of rich countries?
Many of these challenges, if I may say so, Sadako, you and I have faced together.
We learned together, in the hard school of Yugoslavia and the Great Lakes, that sometimes peace cannot be kept, nor suffering relieved, without the weapons and the will to confront those who are bent on war.
And more recently too, since I became Secretary-General, we have been side by side in many struggles.
We have worked together to bring greater coherence to the United Nations system; to remind Member States that mandates must be matched with resources and with political will; and to forge new partnerships with civil society and the private sector.
Alas, we cannot claim to have overcome all our challenges. I suppose the most painful thing for both of us must be the fact that we still cannot guarantee the safety of our colleagues in the field. If anything we are less able to do so than we were 10 years ago.
I hope and believe that the gravity of this challenge was brought home to all Member States, quite literally at the highest level, by the tragic coincidence of the murder of three UNHCR staff members in West Timor on the very day that the Millennium Summit opened in New York.
On that day I was not in a position to announce their names. But the fact is that, on the day of their deaths, Samson Aregahegn, Carlos Caceres and Pero Simundza were honoured by 147 heads of State or government, and high-ranking representatives from 42 other States -- all of whom stood in silent tribute when they heard the grim news.
Less than two weeks later, another of your colleagues, Mensah Kpognon, was killed during an attack in Guinea.
Those who have died, colleagues of yours and of mine, were unarmed civilians. But, as much as any fallen soldier, they may be said to have given their lives "on active service" -- the service of their fellow human beings.
There have been far too many such deaths. All of us in the United Nations system -- staff members and Member States alike -- must do more to reduce the risks run by our colleagues in the future.
We all owe an enormous debt to Sadako, and we have all got so used to working with her that she will be very, very hard to replace.
Fortunately there are several very strong candidates for the position, and I hope to be able to make a recommendation to the General Assembly within this month.
There will be many tributes to Sadako, at this meeting and on other occasions over the next three months. Let me suggest that those tributes, if they are really sincere, should be paid not only in words but in kind, in the form of active support for UNHCR and its work. That, I submit, is the only way to ensure Sadako's legacy.
And let me suggest three areas in which that support is most acutely needed.
First, we must strengthen the notion of asylum -- the bedrock on which all our work for refugees is based. States must resist the temptation to deal with their immigration problems, or what they perceive as such, by limiting the protection they give to refugees or by denying asylum seekers access to their territory.
I welcome UNHCR's proposal to launch global consultations with governments, aimed at revitalizing the protection regime and reaffirming the centrality of the 1951 Convention. I hope this proposal will be accepted and that all governments will play a constructive part.
Secondly, financial support for UNHCR remains crucial. Millions of people in dire distress depend on UNHCR for the most basic necessities of life. It is entrusted with these responsibilities by the international community, and yet the same international community consistently fails to provide corresponding resources.
There have been successive budget reductions -- some of them very painful, since they involve cancelling or suspending activities crucial to the welfare of refugees. But even on that reduced budget, the High Commissioner's Office projects a significant shortfall at the end of the year.
I'm sure that if we gave Sadako one wish, for the thing she would most like to be able to bequeath to her successor, her answer would be a more timely, consistent and adequate system of funding than the one she has had to cope with.
And finally, I appeal once again to all States to do more to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers on their territory -- those of the United Nations, and those of other agencies and the non-governmental organizations.
Obviously, it would be impossible to eliminate all risk from our work. But -- as I said to the staff at Headquarters in New York a week ago -- where we can make a difference, we must. I shall very soon submit a report to the General Assembly, asking for significant changes in the way we provide staff security: in the number of personnel, in the training they receive, the services they provide, the equipment they use and, critically, in the decisions that determine where and when they should go in.
Of course, this will cost money. But security is not a luxury or an option.
Let me add one thing. Our colleagues in West Timor were not killed by accident. Nor were they simply victims of the risk inherent in all field operations. Like the World Food Programme and United Nations Children's Fund staff members killed in Burundi last year, they were targeted quite deliberately, not in spite of being humanitarian workers who were there to protect and help vulnerable people but precisely because of that fact.
Member States must fulfil their responsibility not only to provide security, but also to bring to justice those who violate it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the very least that those who serve the international community are entitled to expect.
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