Margaret Pollack on International Protection at UNHCR’s Executive Committee meeting agenda item on protection
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.
(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 11: Humanitarian Issues and Other Commitments Migrant workers, the integration of legal migrants; Refugees and displaced persons; Treatment of citizens of other participating States; Citizenship and political rights; Democracy at the national, regional and local levels)
The United States government remains deeply concerned about the vulnerability of migrants, refugees, and displaced and stateless persons within the OSCE region as we commemorate the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Recent political transitions in the Mediterranean and North Africa have resulted in close to a million displaced persons, with many fleeing to European borders by sea and other means. We support ongoing efforts by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to work with governments, including by providing migrants with the opportunity to seek and receive protection if necessary, and by assisting local maritime authorities to assist those in distress. We view such efforts as integral to support for democratic efforts taking place in the region and urge participating States to treat these vulnerable migrants with respect, compassion, and humanity.
The circumstances giving rise to refugees and displaced persons around the Mediterranean Basin remind us that the requirements of the Dublin Regulation place a disproportionate asylum burden on OSCE border countries with accompanying tensions in these countries. We must better address this continuing challenge in the context of our OSCE commitments. Specifically, at the Ljubljana Ministerial Council of 2005, the participating States committed to “. . . promote dignified treatment of all individuals wanting to cross borders, in conformity with relevant national legal frameworks, international law, in particular human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law, and relevant OSCE commitments.” The failure to distinguish asylum seekers from those migrating for other reasons and the increased use of detention, including for unaccompanied children, continue to be major obstacles for those seeking protection and hinder efforts to meet the expectations laid forth in Ljubljana.
The plight of refugees and displaced persons in the Western Balkans—numbering in the hundreds of thousands—remains a concern even as the countries move closer to European integration. Finding permanent solutions requires, first and foremost, addressing the still pervasive hostility toward returnees. Threats, harassment and even attacks on returnees and potential returnees must stop. Local authorities, particularly in parts of Croatia, the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and throughout Kosovo, have a responsibility to take action to counter anti-return sentiments. European countries outside the region who have hosted those who fled the conflicts of the 1990s must also ensure that the conditions exist for safe and sustainable returns. This particularly applies to the return of Roma to Kosovo. Helping local authorities in receiving and integrating those who return is not only a humane act but also one that serves the self-interest of all the parties involved. Without such assistance, returnees may feel compelled to leave their homes once again to seek greater security elsewhere in Europe. We welcome the decision in August of authorities in Baden-Wuerttemberg to suspend the deportation of Roma back to Kosovo. Although the GOK and partner organizations have improved their capacity and have more of the resources needed to reintegrate Roma, this group still faces fundamental challenges, including unemployment and inadequate housing.
On another issue in the Western Balkans, we encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia to continue in their joint efforts, in coordination with the international community, to assure durable solutions for refugees and IDPs remaining from the displacement of 1991-1995.
We favor the protection of displaced populations in the South Caucasus and the provision of humanitarian assistance to address the needs that result from their displacement. In Georgia, we support a meaningful international presence that includes the OSCE and other international actors. This can play a valuable role in reducing tensions, facilitating humanitarian assistance, and monitoring and improving human rights and humanitarian conditions on the ground. We note, however, that the success of any international effort depends on unhindered access to the whole of Georgia, including the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
We are also concerned about continuing obstacles faced by persons displaced by the violence that took place in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. While temporary housing and building material has been provided by international donors, ongoing city redevelopment plans threaten long-term rebuilding efforts and property rights. Displaced ethnic Uzbeks have been disproportionately affected by such plans, and continue to face excessive bureaucratic obstacles in their efforts to recover property deeds or other documents or receive compensation for their losses. Kyrgyz authorities have done little to rebuild ethnic Uzbek businesses destroyed during the violence; instead there are credible and disturbing reports that ethnic Kyrgyz have expropriated ethnic Uzbek businesses through coercion or threats.
The United States remains concerned that government officials and political leaders in the OSCE region continue to contribute to a climate of xenophobia through anti-immigrant statements. In its worst instances, this can lead to bias-motivated violence against refugees, asylum seekers, and others. For example, the recent tragedy in Norway was inspired in part by misguided beliefs that Muslim migrants were destroying Europe, as well as the desire to stop politicians and others who were perceived as having facilitated entry into Europe for Muslim immigrants and their descendants and others.
Government officials and political and civic leaders should strive toward strategies that reduce racial prejudice and community tension around immigration issues, and maximize the human capital potential of those entering the country. We should use the ongoing debate regarding the expulsions of Roma from France and evictions of Roma in Italy and elsewhere to move us closer to those goals.
In this context we welcome the 2011 OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session Resolution on “Strengthening Efforts to Combat Racism and Xenophobia and Foster Inclusion,” and look forward to follow up on it in the OSCE. We also commend the Council of Europe Report “Living together: Combining diversity and freedom in 21st-century Europe.”
Challenges also remain in our own country. We continue to battle negative views and actions towards migrants, including by collecting data on and responding to hate crimes directed against them.
We encourage participating States to utilize the many resources the OSCE has developed that can assist us in implementing our commitments. We support the OSCE’s Annual Hate Crimes Report, new Training against Hate Crimes for Law Enforcement program and continue to support cooperative efforts to address the problem, such as the Memorandum of Understanding between UNHCR and ODIHR to further bolster existing cooperation in monitoring, reporting and capacity‐building related to hate crimes. We encourage the use of the OSCE/IOM “Training Modules on Labour Migration Management –Trainer’s Manual” in the development of migration programs and policies that will contribute to stability and security. We also remain supportive of efforts by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities that have focused on the integration of migrants and relieving societal tensions linked to migration.
As the United States noted at the Lithuanian Chairmanship’s timely Special Thematic Event on Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees, the OSCE has a unique role in fostering the capacity for the dignified voluntary return of displaced persons and finding durable solutions for refugees.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We warmly welcome Ambassador Vollebaek back to the Permanent Council and we thank him for his comprehensive report.
The treatment of minorities is at the heart of many of Europe’s potential, current, and continuing conflicts. As you noted, your work plays a critical role in conflict prevention, particularly in providing early warning. The persistence of tension and conflict over minority issues should compel us to do even more to address not only the causes, but also the conditions that can exacerbate conflict.
This applies most urgently in the case of Kyrgyzstan. President Otunbayeva recently spoke in the Permanent Council about the ongoing challenges her country faces, which are rooted in high levels of nationalism and intolerance. We share your concerns that persistent nationalism will undermine stability in southern Kyrgyzstan, particularly during the upcoming Presidential election.
We believe that the OSCE, together with the international community, must redouble efforts to help restore rule of law and ensure the safety of all persons. We welcome your recommendations for continued OSCE engagement on understanding the June 2010 events, policy reforms affecting minority rights, and police training. We also hope to see the important work of your office to aid in the process of mediation and reconciliation desperately needed in Kyrgyzstan.
We strongly support your continued engagement in Georgia, where your efforts to call attention to the rights and needs of ethnic minorities and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are particularly important. We share your concern over the deteriorating situation in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and continue to urge full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. We continue to call for a greater international presence throughout Georgia, to include the OSCE and other international actors.
Over the years, the situation for minority populations has generally improved as democratic norms have taken hold. Unfortunately, however, the situation for some minorities – including Roma and Sinti – has deteriorated, sometimes significantly. Protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma everywhere has long been a personal commitment for Secretary Clinton and, under the Obama Administration, it is a stated priority of the United States. Like all people, ethnic Roma should have the opportunity to live free from discrimination, enjoy equal access to education, healthcare and employment, and pursue their full potential.
We also share your concerns over persistent violations of minority rights in other OSCE states. It is clear from your report that, while definite advances have been made, there are still significant problems related to minority education in the OSCE area. The divisive education policies observed in several participating States, including restrictions on the ability of persons belonging to national minorities to have adequate opportunities to be educated in their mother tongue, are cause for concern. Such restrictions are always worrying, but particularly so when they take place in separatist areas such as Abkhazia and Transnistria, where the situation is already tense.
We agree with the High Commissioner that such restrictions have the potential to further increase tensions in the region.
Ambassador Vollebaek, your efforts play a crucial role in reducing tensions within and among states through addressing sensitive issues related to national minorities. We are encouraged by the interest expressed by the governments of a number of participating States to implement your recommendations.
We continue to support you and your team, your persistent and even-handed focus on improving education, participation by minorities in public life, the conditions of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area, and relations between states and minorities in neighboring states with whom they share affinities.
We also look forward to continuing discussion of these issues at the upcoming Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.