High Commissioner's Opening Statement to 61st Session of Excom
4 October 2010
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Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers, Excellencies. May I express my very deep gratitude and appreciation for your leadership and support. Thank you very much on behalf of UNHCR.
In December of this year, UNHCR will mark its 60th birthday. Next year we will celebrate that same anniversary for the 1951 Refugee Convention, as well as the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. We will also mark 150 years since the birth of the first High Commissioner for Refugees at the League of Nations, Fridtjof Nansen.
All these anniversaries present an opportunity to broaden and renew support for the principles of international protection upon which our work depends.
I am thus delighted to welcome you all to this 61st session of UNHCR's Executive Committee.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In this first Excom since being re-elected in April, I would like to begin my remarks by exploring the increasing resilience of conflict and its implications for our work.
Last year was the worst in two decades for the voluntary repatriation of refugees. Only approximately 250,000 returned home. And that is about one quarter of the annual average over the past ten years.
And there is a simple explanation for this. The changing nature and the growing intractability of conflict make achieving and sustaining peace more difficult in today's world.
Traditionally, UN and regional peacekeeping missions were deployed when arms had fallen silent. Missions operated with the consent of the parties and their objectives were generally limited to stabilizing situations so peace could be consolidated.
Today's "blue helmets" face a different reality. They are often deployed while violence is still going on, in internal conflicts characterized by a multiplicity of actors, a proliferation of weapons and, inevitably, widespread banditry.
Distinctions between military and non-military spheres have become blurred. As a result, both civilians and the humanitarians trying to help them, end up being targeted. And this is why we continue to insist on the need to preserve the autonomy of humanitarian space. Respect for the principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality remains the best guarantor of the security of humanitarian staff.
At the same time, a number of states are signaling a growing discomfort with peacekeeping operations in their territories. Concerns about national sovereignty are increasingly translating into the rejection of international presence. The requests earlier this year to drawdown MINURCAT in Chad and MONUC in the Democratic Republic of Congo are cases in point.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The growing resilience of conflict is typified by the situations in Afghanistan, the DRC, or Somalia.
None of these conflicts is new. We have seen fighting in Afghanistan on and off for decades. The DRC has been in almost continual conflict since 1998. And Somalia's troubles have thrived on the absence of an effective central government since 1991.
In this context, I would like to say a few words on the future of peacekeeping and peace building strategies.
I am encouraged by the efforts being made and DPKO's engagement with a comprehensive review of the peacekeeping concept.
It is by now a cliché that peacekeepers can be sent to places where there is no peace to keep. Their already difficult tasks are sometimes rendered impossible by unrealistic or contradictory objectives.
Clarity and consistency are the basic pre-conditions of an achievable mandate. For years, MONUC - now MONUSCO - was simultaneously asked to protect civilians and support the Congolese army in actions against rebel groups. However, the behaviour of that army represented one of the biggest threats to the populations MONUC was supposed to protect.
No one-size-fits-all model of peacekeeping will serve the needs of this decade. In some situations, we will need robust forces empowered to enforce peace. In others, a lighter footprint and carefully calibrated mandate will be needed, focusing on the protection of civilians and the preservation of humanitarian space.
And in all cases, the withdrawal of peacekeepers needs to be part of a responsible exit, ensuring the conditions are in place for security and durable peace.