For information only - not an official document.
    13 November 2000
 Departing United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Briefs Council One Last Time

NEW YORK, 10 November (UN Headquarters) -- In her final briefing to the Security Council this afternoon, Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stressed that in most parts of the world where her agency and its partners had to operate, mechanisms to address security problems were slow-moving, unwieldy and not adapted to the new types of conflicts. 

She went on to say that, in many places, such mechanisms simply did not exist.  She insisted first of all on the need to initiate and implement peace operations much more rapidly.  The issue of timing was one that had not yet been satisfactorily addressed by governments.  “We must do all we can to reduce the gap between the deployment of humanitarian personnel and the implementation of security support measures”, she said.

The agency’s staff were deployed unarmed to dangerous and isolated duty stations, where they were increasingly targeted, attacked and brutally killed.  The gap in time between the beginning of humanitarian activities and the start of peace operations continued to widen.  And while population movements had become the cause and conduit of grave insecurity and instability, little was done to address the problem.

She said the issue of insecurity spilling across borders from countries in conflict --  with particular impact on areas hosting refugees -- should be examined and factored into peacekeeping operations.  Could peacekeepers, in situations where refugee flows might become “carriers” of instability, be given a special cross-border observatory mandate? she asked. 

Mrs. Ogata ends nearly 10 years as High Commissioner on 31 December.  Her term, which began in 1991, spanned one of the most tumultuous decades in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' 50-year history.  The agency, which has more than 5,000 staff in some 120 countries, marks the fiftieth anniversary of its founding on 14 December.  Professor Ruud Lubbers, former Dutch Prime Minister, will succeed Mrs.Ogata as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Council President Peter van Walsum (Netherlands) expressed the Council's deep appreciation to Mrs. Ogata for striving to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees and for contributing through her work to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, the maintenance of international peace and security, the development of friendly relations among nations, and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

 Statements were also made by the representatives of the United States, France, Argentina, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Jamaica, Tunisia, Bangladesh, China, Canada, Malaysia, Mali, Ukraine, Namibia and the Netherlands (in his national capacity). 

 The meeting, which began at 3:40 p.m., adjourned at 5:45 p.m.

Council Work Programme

 The Security Council met this afternoon to hear a briefing by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata.

 SADAKO OGATA, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, addressing the Security Council for the last time, said that conflicts today were inevitably the main cause of mass exodus.  More than ever, refugees and wars were inextricably linked.  During the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia, it was the tragedy of ethnic cleansing which put the United Nations’ refugee agency at the centre of the political debate on peace and security.  Over the years she had not ceased calling for political support for humanitarian crises.  She had repeated, countless times, that humanitarian action could only address -- not resolve -- political problems. 

She said the central question she sought to answer for the Council today was therefore:  what did refugees need from the Council?  What did the United Nations refugee agency expect from the body responsible for addressing peace and security problems, in order to allow the agency fulfil its core mission -– to provide effective protection to refugees and find durable solutions to their problems.  She said the agency’s staff were deployed unarmed to dangerous and isolated duty stations where they were increasingly targeted, attacked and brutally killed.  The gap in time between the beginning of humanitarian activities, and that of peace operations, continued to widen.  Also, while population movements had become the cause and conduit of grave insecurity and instability, little was done to address the problem.

That, she continued, was a situation that worried her deeply.  In most parts of the world where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its humanitarian partners were called upon to operate, mechanisms to address security problems were slow moving, unwieldy and not adapted to the new types of conflicts.  In many places, they simply did not exist.  She insisted first of all on the need to initiate and implement peace operations much more rapidly.  The issue of timing was one that had not yet been satisfactorily addressed by governments.  “We must do all we can to reduce the gap between the deployment of humanitarian personnel, and the implementation of some security support measures”, she said.

She said the UNHCR had become used to being called upon to confront refugee emergencies literally at a few hours’ notice.  “We have no choice:  delays in our work, inevitably mean that lives are lost”, she said.  “Since 1992, we have therefore progressively built systems to respond quickly, to sudden, massive population movements.”  Those systems were based, essentially, on the concept of standby resources that could be mobilized and sent to the field within 72 hours. The Kosovo refugee crisis, however, proved that the agency had to adapt its existing emergency response systems to a new and more crowded humanitarian space. 

She said that no matter how rapidly and effectively humanitarian agencies mobilized, their response would be inadequate unless the environment in which they operated was secure.  Humanitarian agencies must not be left alone to confront difficult and dangerous situations.  In that respect she emphasized support for local law enforcement capacity.  Support was a key concept and implied working together, as opposed to straightforward intervention.  In addition, while the response of governments to the concept of a “ladder of options” to improve local security in refugee-inhabited areas had been very positive, it still remained in the realm of theory.  “It is urgent that we take steps to operationalize it and to implement concrete, predictable measures, for example the deployment of humanitarian security staff”, she stressed.

She said the issue of insecurity spilling across borders from countries in conflict, and affecting in particular, areas hosting refugees, should be examined and factored in to peacekeeping operations.  Could peacekeepers, in situations where refugee flows might become “carriers” of instability, be given a special cross-border observatory mandate?  Refugee hosting countries would have to agree to that but it would be in their own interest since such an expanded concept of peacekeeping could address some of their own security and stability concerns.  Addressing peace building, she said the UNHCR’s problem was that it often did not have the resources or the expertise to run development programmes.  Yet, development agencies were slow to come once emergencies had ended. 

She said there was thus a gap between emergency, short-term humanitarian activities and the implementation of medium- to long-term development and reconstruction programmes.  During such gaps societies could unravel and conflict could restart.  The UNHCR had made great efforts to coordinate a joint initiative with international development partners -- notably the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  The response by governments to the various efforts, however, had been very timid, and raising funds for post-conflict activities was still a very difficult and uncertain exercise.  The UNHCR was going even further, nevertheless, and was exploring new avenues -- particularly in the promotion of community coexistence as a first step towards reconciliation.

She said effective disarmament, demobilization and reintegration contributed to the creation of a safe environment for refugees returning home.  That was one area where the agency expected more decisive action by the Council.


 JAMES B. CUNNINGHAM (United States) said that Mrs. Ogata had set a high standard, an example of courage, commitment and determination that paved the way for the future.  The UNHCR had galvanized the international community to respond to the humanitarian imperatives of the time.  But the UNHCR was not an independent actor -– it was an organization in which all United Nations Member States were stakeholders.  It was the collective task of Member States to ensure that the UNHCR fulfilled its mandate responsibilities to protect and provide durable solutions for refugees.  To do that, the agency must prioritize and maximize the use of its resources.  It was the obligation of Member States to adequately fund the UNHCR so that refugees could receive the standard of care and protection they deserved.  The UNHCR could not be held accountable if donors did not improve their generosity.

 Perhaps most importantly, he said, progress needed to be made on addressing the security of both refugees and humanitarian personnel.  It was not acceptable that humanitarian workers had become targets of conflicting parties seeking to politicize or disrupt humanitarian assistance.  It was not acceptable that there were not better mechanisms to reduce their vulnerability to attacks and intimidation.  It was also not acceptable that humanitarian aid had been redirected by warlords and corrupt governments.  When any attack occurred, States must investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the attacks. 

 He added that the enormous contribution of refugee-hosting countries, the majority of which were in the developing world, was not sufficiently recognized and appreciated.  The impact on their countries, their communities, their homes and their environment was immeasurable.  It was time to identify how to better help them. 

 JEAN-DAVID LEVITTE (France) expressed his appreciation to Mrs. Ogata for leading the UNHCR and adapting it to the realities and needs of the times.  The 1990s were marked by an incredibly large flow of refugees.  More than ever before, conflicts could not be dealt with without addressing the plight of refugees.  The events in Rwanda and elsewhere showed the close and often deadly link between conflicts and refugees.  Refugees not only fell victim to conflicts but were also sometimes used by warring parties to pursue their political and military objectives.  In fact, fighters blended in with genuine refugees in order to use the refugees for their own purposes.  It was the duty of the international community to separate “the wheat from the chaff”.

 The intermediate solution could be to use observers or an international police force, he said.  He would be grateful for any additional suggestions 

Mrs. Ogata could offer.  Also, fighters kept refugees under their control to prolong the conflict and achieve their own objectives.  Host countries had to prevent armed factions from using refugees.  The closer the camps were to borders, the more vulnerable they were to attacks and manipulation, as was shown by the situation in Guinea.  Refugees often became an onerous burden to host countries and could even have destabilizing effects on them.  The international community had not provided sufficient support to host countries. 

 He said that the return of refugees was an important criterion for genuine success of a peace process and a return to normalcy.  The situation in the Balkans was an example of that.  The numbers of returnees were often far below expectations.  There were still nearly 5 million Serb refugees in the former Yugoslavia.  He hoped that the political changes in Belgrade would make a return to normalcy possible. 

Lastly, he added that given the nature of conflicts, humanitarian personnel were too often turned into targets.  The determination of the international community to oppose those crimes must be total, and the guilty must be sought, found and punished by the local authorities.

 ARNOLDO LISTRE (Argentina) expressed his profound gratitude to Mrs. Ogata for carrying out her tasks so excellently.  The work of the UNHCR entailed great risks.  Unfortunately, at present those risks were even greater than before.  United Nations personnel continued to fall in the line of duty as they sought to aid those in need.  Clearly, providing adequate protection to United Nations and associated personnel was a high priority.  Argentina, which was involved in providing such protection, supported the immediate adoption of the transitional budgetary measures, which aimed to meet the most immediate needs for bolstering the protection of United Nations personnel.  Unfortunately, contributions to the trust fund set up for the security of personnel had not been very forthcoming.  That trend must be reversed. 

He said that it was vital to focus on the 1994 Convention on the Safety and Security of United Nations and Associated Personnel, which was one of the principal legal means of providing protection.  Those countries in which assistance was being provided must do everything in their power to become parties to that Convention.  The General Assembly had asked the Secretary-General to report on the legal situation of United Nations personnel, and to propose measures to improve respect for the Convention’s provisions.  His country would consider all the Secretary-General's proposals and work to adopt measures to prevent attacks on humanitarian personnel.

 Sir JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom) said that Mrs. Ogata had presided over the UNHCR through a decade of enormous change and growth, both in the UNHCR itself and throughout the United Nations system.  It was a sad fact that the agency was more likely to be blamed when things went wrong than given credit for a job well done.  The year 2000 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the UNHCR’s creation.  Its key aim of providing international protection to refugees remained as relevant now as it was in 1950.  But the issue of internally-displaced persons was now much more in the spotlight.  Internally-displaced people now outnumbered traditional refugees.  There was agreement that it was not an issue on which the UNHCR should act as the lead agency but it was looked to play a prominent role in relieving the plight of the internally displaced, who suffered as much as traditional refugees. 

 The United Kingdom welcomed the global consultation exercise on which the UNHCR had embarked, the aim of which was to revitalize the international protection regime and to discuss measures to ensure international protection for all who needed it, he said.  He looked forward to taking a full and constructive part in the next stages of the process.  Mrs. Ogata had witnessed the steady expansion, in her time as High Commissioner, of the Council’s humanitarian agenda.  The Council was now finally tackling the challenges in the Brahimi report and the wider issues of coordinating peacekeeping, human rights, and the humanitarian and development aspects of the work of the United Nations.  He thanked Mrs. Ogata for her great achievements and wished her well in the future.  He also drew attention to a cessation of hostilities agreement signed this morning between the parties in Sierra Leone. 

 Mr. KAREV (Russian Federation) said over the last 10 years the UNHCR had dealt with unprecedented humanitarian crises all over the world.  Within an ever-changing framework, the agency had found adequate solutions.  It had undertaken many tasks, including peace building and post-conflict rehabilitation.  His delegation agreed with Mrs. Ogata when she said that the UNHCR was now at a turning point.  New challenges required adequate new answers.  Global consultation was therefore required to strengthen the regime of international protection.  Also each category of migrant, depending on their status, required a specific approach. 

He said that coordination of action between humanitarian agencies and respective States also needed to be strengthened.  His country’s cooperation with the UNHCR was precisely one example of such strengthened interaction.  He expressed his concern at the alarming attacks and murders of humanitarian staff.  The question of both refugees and the safety of humanitarian workers must remain a major issue to be addressed.

 PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica) said that the response capabilities of the UNHCR must be improved.  Time could save lives.  The agency’s capacities must be bolstered in order to enhance delivery time.  A balance must be struck between responding to high-profile emergencies and other smaller and equally urgent humanitarian disasters, such as some in Africa.  Humanitarian emergencies required sustained international support and prompt action by relevant actors.  The Council’s role in responding to those situations could also avert further crises, and contribute to the diffusion and ultimate prevention of further conflict.  Secondly, it was necessary to intensify efforts to guarantee the safety of humanitarian and associated personnel.  There must be collaboration on the ground between peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies in providing safe environments for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

 Third, she said, access to humanitarian workers was linked to safety.  Staff of organizations such as the UNHCR must be able to access civilian populations.  Fourth, humanitarian action alone would not solve any of the problems leading to forced human displacement.  By taking firm positions and supporting decisively, rapidly and substantively the follow-up to peace agreements, and by promoting the mobilization of resources for reconstruction and peace-building, the Council would have made its contribution to averting and stemming humanitarian crises.  Fifth, the United Nations system must work towards devising mechanisms to effectively and equitably address the protection of displaced populations. 

 MOHAMED FADHEL AYARI (Tunisia) said the tragic plight experienced by refugees was a source of constant concern and of vital interest to all.  Civilian exoduses could seriously endanger peace and international security and had serious ramifications for the peace and stability of neighbouring countries.   He also stressed the plight of women and children who were often the main victims in conflict and refugee situations.  While new emergencies continued to arise, the UNHCR was confronted with a chronic deficit in resources.  The international community, and particularly the donor countries, must provide appropriate political and material support to the agency if it was to carry out its mandate. 

He also urged the international community to assist countries hosting refugees, particularly the African States.  His delegation was convinced that the settlement of refugee and displacement problems lay with the elimination of poverty and conflict.  There was a particular need to eliminate the underlying causes of conflict.  In addition, he drew attention to the fact that the international community seemed to focus more on some crises than on others.  Such an approach needed to be corrected.

F.A. SHAMIM AHMED (Bangladesh) paid special tribute to Mrs. Ogata for her commitment to refugees worldwide and for leading the agency so outstandingly during her tenure.  The root causes of conflict needed to be addressed in order to resolve the problem of refugees.  In addressing the needs of refugees, special account must be taken of the needs of refugee women, children and the elderly.  He underscored the need for balanced shared responses in addressing the refugee issue and strongly believed in reaching international consensus on burden sharing with refugee hosting countries.  Burden sharing must not be limited to just direct assistance to refugees but should also be extended to host countries.

He emphasized that protracted refugee situations should not be relegated to the back burner.  Effective and coherent partnerships between the UNHCR, the United Nations system, civil society and non-governmental organizations were crucial.  Also, the agency must be financially strengthened to help it meet the increasing needs of refugees.  Finally, he urged the Council to address the issue of the security of humanitarian personnel.

WANG YINGFAN (China) said Mrs. Ogata had raised a number of important points this afternoon including the safety of humanitarian workers.  All the points raised by the High Commissioner, including her proposals, needed to be addressed in greater detail.  He noted that the Council had taken a number of steps to protect humanitarian personnel including open debates, resolutions and presidential statements.  It was now necessary for the Council to make a further study, in great depth, on coordination between United Nations' bodies and on integrated approaches to security issues. 

 PAUL HEINBECKER (Canada) expressed his gratitude to those States, such as Guinea and Pakistan, which continued to provide much needed refuge.  While the parties to conflict, which precipitated the initial displacement, retained paramount responsibility, the Council had also sometimes been complicit in failing to address fully the political dynamics of crises before they reached disastrous humanitarian proportions.  In recent months, some positive steps had been taken in the Council to be more proactive in trying to address the political causes of humanitarian crises around the world.  But, as noted by Mrs. Ogata, the Council could and must do better.  Also, Member States must do a better job facilitating the transition from conflict to development, nurturing both reconstruction and coexistence.

 In praising Mrs. Ogata’s efforts, he also commended the work of the UNHCR staff worldwide.  Their courage and commitment had enabled vulnerable populations to gain access to needed protection and assistance.  The safety of United Nations and other humanitarian personnel and the environment in refugee camps were priority issues for Canada and all Council members. 

 He added that, as was evident in Kosovo, military engagement in humanitarian activities could negatively affect the perceived impartiality of humanitarian organizations, such as the UNHCR.  He would be interested in the High Commissioner’s assessment of how the military could most effectively support humanitarian action.

 MOHAMMAD KAMAL (Malaysia) said his delegation supported the proposals made by Mrs. Ogata this afternoon, and hoped the Council would act upon them.  The international community must pay more attention to the critical post-conflict phase where refugees needed more assistance for settlement upon their return home.  There was also a need for the Council to re-examine the issue of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. 

 MOCTAR OUANE (Mali) expressed his Government’s appreciation to Mrs. Ogata for the assistance provided to refugees, both in Mali and all over the world.  In light of recent conflicts, she was right to underscore the relationship between humanitarian assistance and the maintenance of peace and security.  He agreed that emphasis must be placed on coordination and consistency in humanitarian activities to ensure peace and development.  Humanitarian assistance must always be integrated into broader global efforts to resolve conflicts.  In addition, following the Secretary- General’s recommendations, a way must be found to ensure that the principles and legal norms of humanitarian law were respected.  Also, the safety and security of humanitarian personnel must be ensured, based on the principles of international humanitarian law.  Measures must be taken against those who attack humanitarian personnel.  The International Criminal Court must carry out its functions and ensure that attackers were held responsible for their actions.

 VOLODYMYR YEL’CHENKO (Ukraine) said that, in solving the problems that led up to forced human displacement, the Council should:  take clear, strong and united positions; support more decisively, rapidly and substantively the follow-up to peace agreements; and promote the mobilization of resources for reconstruction and peace building.

 He said States should work with the UNHCR to adopt and improve comprehensive approaches needed to address the refugee crisis by creating:  a stronger relationship between relevant humanitarian actors; better linkages between humanitarian assistance and development cooperation; and enhanced relationships between States, civil society and the refugees themselves.  It was also essential to create a secure environment for refugee-populated areas and humanitarian operations.

 SELMA N. ASHIPALA-MUSAVYI (Namibia) applauded Mrs. Ogata’s tireless efforts and wished her the best in her future endeavours.  She and her staff worked under difficult and often dangerous conditions.  Over the past few months, deliberate attacks on humanitarian workers had occurred.  It was essential to preserve a safe environment to enable humanitarian workers to reach those in need.  In that regard, States must carry out their obligations to protect humanitarian personnel, and those who attack humanitarian personnel must be brought to justice.  Among the factors that impacted on the situation of refugees was the easy availability of small arms and light weapons, which fueled armed conflict.  It was essential that arms-producing countries exercised restraint and ensured that the arms they produced did not reach conflict areas. 

 She drew particular attention to the situation of women and girl refugees and internally displaced persons.  Their needs required special attention.  She noted that internally displaced persons did not attract the attention of the international community but their situation was equally critical.  It was imperative that everyone worked together to ensure that conflicts did not occur.  In that way, an increase in the number of refugees and the internally displaced could be avoided.  Where conflicts had taken place, she emphasized the need for the international community to support post-conflict peace-building activities by assisting countries in reconciliation and reconstruction efforts which would ensure long-term security.

 ARNOLD PETER VAN WALSUM (Netherlands), President of the Council, speaking in his national capacity, said that Mrs. Ogata had raised key issues this afternoon such as the gap between humanitarian operations and peace activities.  He stressed that the problem of the security of humanitarian workers could not be solved solely through the establishment of peace operations.  His delegation felt that all governments had the responsibility to provide safe environments for humanitarian workers.  Where that was not completely the case, the international community should contribute and fill the gaps. 

He urged all Member States to follow his country's example and contribute to the trust fund for humanitarian personnel.  The ultimate aim was a fully integrated approach to conflict prevention and resolution and post conflict peace-building. 

 Responding to Council members’ comments, the High Commissioner, Mrs. OGATA, said that she was pleased to hear the references on disarmament, demobilization and reconciliation.  Those were issues that required further consideration by the Council in the future.  Police and military were needed to disarm armed elements. The UNHCR could not perform that function.  That division of responsibility should be further explored.

On cross-border mandates for peacekeeping operations, she did not think that the issue would be resolved soon.  Some had realized how impossible it was to contain fighting and prevent it from spreading across borders.  She was aware that peacekeepers could not be deployed along the entire border of any country.  However, there were points through which refugees fled and set up camps which needed more focused attention.

Regarding ladders of options for establishing security for refugees and humanitarian workers, she said that attention must be focused first at the local level.  The preliminary step was to strengthen local police capacity, and then regional or sub-regional arrangements should follow.  As a last resort, international efforts should be explored.  The UNHCR had reconstructed its emergency services unit, and had identified areas where standby arrangements and support were needed.  Only through standby arrangements could assistance be more effective.

On the question of funding, she said that peace, security and staff security all cost money.  She appealed to Member States, as she foresaw a deficit in the UNHCR funding in the fourth quarter, which meant the agency would have to cut down on personnel and activities.  The burden on Iran and Pakistan with regard to Afghan refugees was very heavy.  Resources were needed to assist the reintegration of those refugees who wanted to return to Afghanistan.  While the UNHCR knew how to organize returns, funds were necessary for them to take place.  She concluded by expressing her gratitude for assurances of continued support to the UNHCR which were provided today.

* * * * *