October 1, 2012
I’m very pleased to be in Geneva leading the United States delegation to the 63rd Session of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR. As this is the first time I have represented the United States in this forum, I would like to focus my remarks on a few issues that drive – in large part – our engagement in the international humanitarian response to forced displacement.
First, we must ensure that those displaced as a result of conflict are included in whatever peace negotiations, discussions and decisions follow conflict. To this end, women must be included as full and equal partners in bringing conflict to an end and building lasting security. Our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has convinced world leaders that paying attention to the voices of women is a smart thing to do – and that the concerns of women are legitimate issues for international security discussions. At the 2011 Ministerial here in Geneva, Secretary Clinton announced our government’s pledges. These included promoting women’s equal right to nationality. Knowing we can do better – that we have to do better – the United States adopted in December our first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. It is a comprehensive roadmap for accelerating and institutionalizing efforts across the United States Government to advance women’s participation in making and keeping peace. The pledges we made in December are a signal of our commitment to improve protection and assistance for refugees and stateless persons. In our day-to-day humanitarian efforts, we continue to provide financial and political support to UNHCR to assist the most vulnerable, as well as addressing the specific protection needs of women and girls, promoting women’s equal access to resources, and the participation of women in managing those resources. We are pleased to report that we have made progress in implementing our other pledges as well, and there is an update in the back of the room. We look forward to hearing reports from other governments. It is through the full implementation of Member States’ pledges that we will collectively enable UNHCR to better serve its beneficiaries for generations to come.
Second, violence against women impedes economic development, threatens peace and prosperity, and inhibits full participation in civil life. There is strong evidence that gender-based violence is exacerbated in times of crisis. Under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, the United States has put gender equality and advancement of women and girls at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy – launching in August my government’s first ever global strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. Stopping such violence is a cornerstone of my government’s commitment to advancing gender equality. Over the past four years, we have provided more than $60 million towards combating gender-based violence in such places as the DRC, Kenya, Thailand, Haiti, and Colombia. And to better address the pernicious problem of women being sexually abused while collecting firewood, we are supporting the establishment and use of improved standards to better address fuel and firewood needs in humanitarian settings. Our support contributed to the creation of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s (IASC) Task Force on Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy in humanitarian settings – and accompanying guidelines for addressing fuel needs in emergencies and during long-term displacement.
Third, my government currently requires all of the organizations that are our partners to have in place guiding doctrine consistent with the IASC’s six core principles to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse. The Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) has recently adopted new, internal standard operating procedures to increase our own awareness of staff responsibilities, reporting and investigation mechanisms, and program management procedures to prevent and respond to this problem.
And finally, our vision of responsible humanitarian response also includes supporting UN agencies and the international humanitarian architecture they collectively represent. We are providing nearly $2 billion this year to assist refugees and the internally displaced. We invest in UNHCR, in UNICEF, in the World Food Program, and in non-governmental organizations – to make certain that they have the capacity to respond on day one of an emergency. No single government should have to feel alone, overwhelmed or overburdened in assisting those fleeing violence. And no government should distrust this assistance or work against the best efforts of this international response when vulnerable people need to be helped.
In closing, allow me to express my government’s deep appreciation to the entire staff of UNHCR, for their contributions to the cause we all serve: the protection of refugees and the displaced – and the promotion of the solutions that allow them to lead their lives in freedom and with dignity.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.