Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I would also like to thank the Assistant High Commissioner for her remarks today.
The United States’ commitment to the protection of refugees, asylum seekers, displaced populations, stateless persons, and other persons of concern to UNHCR remains strong. As we mark the 60th anniversary of UNHCR’s creation, the U.S. Government is proud of our long history of support to UNHCR as it has pursued its mandate to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Protection is an intrinsic goal of the humanitarian diplomacy and programming of the United States. While U.S. protection efforts may not always achieve the results we desire, we know beyond doubt that our work in concert with UNHCR and Member States has saved countless lives during the past six decades and has protected tens of millions of people from persecution and violations of their rights during their search for safety.
None of us here today is new to the challenges — and the imperative — of providing protection. To better prepare ourselves within the U.S. Government for the complex protection challenges facing us today and into the future, we adopted last month, for the first time, an internal policy on protection that will push us to consider more affirmatively our protection goals and to articulate more clearly what protection means to us as UNHCR’s partner. I want to underscore that this does not signal that the U.S. Government is significantly altering its promotion of protection. Rather, our written internal policy on protection will serve as a tool — a strategic framework — that we will use to help organize our approach and maximize our efforts as we work to address the broad range of protection threats that confront the large and diverse populations of concern to UNHCR and my government.
We have defined protection as follows: “Measures to safeguard the rights of…populations of concern by seeking to prevent or end patterns of violence or abuse; alleviate the trauma and related effects of violence and abuse; identify and promote durable solutions; foster respect for refugee, humanitarian and human rights law; and ensure that humanitarian actions uphold human dignity, benefit the most vulnerable, and do not harm affected populations.” This definition draws upon basic protection principles expressed by UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and various nongovernmental organizations. The U.S. Government will apply these principles in our own efforts to fulfill protection commitments as we monitor the efforts of UNHCR and other states.
Our protection policy articulates four broad goals. The first is to address or prevent violations of human rights and acts that undermine humanitarian principles. It is well understood that effective protection seeks to prevent violations before they occur or stop abuses that are taking place. In our pursuit of this first goal, we will continue to work with UNHCR and Member States to address the most egregious violations affecting populations of concern. We will encourage UNHCR to respond and report aggressively on instances of refoulement and forced return. We will continue to speak out, unilaterally and with other Member States, against incidents of armed attacks and gender-based violence which violate international law, and seek to ensure unhindered access for humanitarian agencies. The emergency in the Horn of Africa is currently the most prominent example of the challenges we face collectively in addressing and preventing serious protection concerns.
Our second policy goal is to fill protection gaps. This refers to the need to strengthen the tools, the systems, and the international architecture that already exist to render protection. In pursuit of this goal, the U.S. Government will continue to support and promote universal adherence to international law obligations under international refugee law, humanitarian law, and human rights law, and acts consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and other principles such as fair refugee status determination procedures, family reunification, registration and documentation procedures for populations of concern, and the pursuit of durable solutions. Wherever these basic protection tools are ignored or applied incorrectly, a protection gap exists.
Third, we aim to strengthen and monitor standards, indicators, and institutional capacities for protection. This goal applies directly to the management and operational functions of UNHCR and other humanitarian partners. We will continue to encourage interagency protection coordination, improved protection skills and capacities, and establishment of appropriate indicators to measure protection impact. We will monitor UNHCR’s performance on all these fronts.
Our fourth protection goal is to address more effectively the distinct protection challenges posed by diverse populations of concern. We support UNHCR’s deeper engagement with internally displaced populations, mixed migration flows, and statelessness issues in recent years, as well as UNHCR’s efforts to develop improved policies and guidelines to protect unaccompanied and separated children, urban refugees, LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups and individuals. Vulnerable migrants often face appalling abuses yet may not fall under traditional definitions of refugees or displaced persons. Some who begin their journey as economic migrants are rendered especially vulnerable due to lack of immigration documentation; their status should not make them any less deserving of protection. UNHCR’s own Ten-Point Plan of Action laudably addresses these very issues. And we welcome the MOU signed by UNHCR and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, as reflected in the year’s Note on International Protection, with a particular focus on combating racism and related xenophobia as a key protection priority. While we affirm that broad protection principles apply to all populations of concern, we are sensitive to the fact that each population group is prone to encounter unique or distinct protection threats and may therefore require different solutions. We recognize that UNHCR staff, as well as our own personnel, require a sophisticated degree of knowledge and enhanced skills to protect this diverse range of populations.
Mr. Chairman, as we pursue these goals, we will continue to work with UNHCR, other governments, and partners to advance durable solutions for protracted refugee situations. For example, many speakers have raised the of Bhutanese refugees this week. We remain unwavering in our support for Bhutanese refugee resettlement. At the same time, we believe the right of refugees to return to Bhutan is important. We strongly urge the Government of Bhutan to do its part to contribute to a solution to the protracted refugee situation of Bhutanese refugees by immediately accepting for repatriation refugee cases of special humanitarian concern.
In conclusion, the United States is motivated by a determination to be as strategic, relentless, and formidable as possible in our efforts on behalf of international protection. With this policy as our organizing framework, we will continue to work with UNHCR and other Member States to strengthen protection of the world’s persecuted and uprooted people. This December, Member States will have a unique opportunity to signal their respective commitments to international protection at the ministerial-level meeting to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the Statelessness Convention. We challenge everyone in this room to do their part in preparing pledges for this historic event.