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Ambassador Robinson Addresses the UNHCR Executive Committee
October 3, 2011

62nd Session of the UNHCR Executive Committee

U.S. Government Plenary Statement

Ambassador David M. Robinson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

October 3, 2011

Geneva, Switzerland

As Delivered

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for your leadership of this Committee over the past year. And thank you, Mr. High Commissioner, for your remarks this morning. And Mr. High Commissioner, thank you for your extraordinary personal leadership over this past year. You have been a tireless advocate on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people and have been a strong and persuasive voice for reform and enhancement of the international system. Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, 2011 has witnessed new crises and new opportunities. The promise of democracy throughout the Arab world is encouraging – and UNHCR’s assistance to those seeking protection from the civil unrest throughout the region is to be commended.

It is the human tragedy in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa, however, which I will use today as a lens for my remarks – and for five basic observations.

First, protection must be the fundamental goal of the international community – and UNHCR’s leadership has never been more essential. Whether the threat is forced return of refugees, improper denial of asylum, gender-based violence, blockages of humanitarian access or restrictions on freedom of movement, UNHCR must be ready to act. Organizational pressures must never be allowed to outweigh or slow-down the response to protection concerns.

Second, no one government or agency can do it alone. Nurturing and valuing long-standing partnerships while developing new ones must be the operational foundation of UNHCR’s work. These partnerships are essential to UNHCR’s role in the UN cluster system, to implementation of its urban refugee policy and Transitional Solutions Initiative, to responding effectively in emergencies when UNHCR’s capacity is stretched across major and sometimes multiple crises at once, and to meeting so many more humanitarian assistance and protection needs. Organizational mandate must never stand in the way of timely and adequate assistance.

Third, UNHCR’s response to emergencies is the most visible element of its work. It is the one that makes the headlines. Scaling up quickly to new crises must be the operating norm, not simply a plan on paper. Organizational capacity must be strengthened by a human resources policy that delivers good performance in emergency situations.

Fourth, results-based management and the ability to measure performance is no longer a new concept. It has been a major part of UNHCR’s vocabulary for nearly a decade. However, the report of the Board of Auditors for 2010 is troubling in its examination of progress. Organizational inertia must not be allowed to stand in the way of a structured and digestible analysis of progress and impact that can steer senior leadership towards priorities for intervention.

Fifth, and finally, humanitarian diplomats and humanitarian implementers must work hand-in-hand. No longer is just physical and legal assistance enough. Solutions to long-standing refugee situations require sustained and strengthened involvement in policy advocacy. We must be relentless, formidable, and effective advocates for victims of persecution, violence, and human rights abuses. We must be emboldened by a very broad conception of our humanitarian and protection responsibilities. Organizational working methods must be supported by skillful and aggressive humanitarian diplomacy at every level, as the High Commissioner so eloquently demonstrated.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the United States remains a committed partner with UNHCR and the beneficiaries it serves. We are providing more than $680 million dollars this year to the organization to assist its work across all four pillars defining its populations of concern – refugee assistance, refugee returns and reintegration, the internally displaced, and stateless persons. We know the work is not always easy – nor the solutions fast enough. We continue to salute UNHCR’s staff for what they do in often very difficult and dangerous environments. And we are resolved to continue our work as a member of the international community represented in this room today.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.