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.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you and the bureau for your efforts to prepare us for the work of this year’s Commission.
Much has changed since 1994 when 179 nations gathered in Cairo and adopted by consensus the ICPD Program of Action. Then the world’s population stood at 5.6 billion. Within the coming year, it will reach 7 billion. The issues we will address under this year’s theme — fertility, reproductive health, and development — are important for all of us and for generations to come.
Allow me to reflect for a moment on those new generations. In Cairo, we recognized the needs and human rights of young people. In 1994, about 2.3 billion people were under the age of 19. Today, nearly 2.5 billion are of this age, representing more than one third of the world’s population. Our deliberations this week – and how we act on them – need to address the real-life circumstances of youth. Progress must be made in providing them the tools to shape their own future, including the comprehensive information, sexuality education, and health services they need and that teaches them about their rights and responsibilities to deal positively with their sexual and reproductive health and enjoy healthy, productive lives.
The ICPD Program of Action and international agreements since then, including the 2009 resolution adopted by this Commission, recognize that for women and adolescents to realize their full potential, they must be able to control their own fertility and achieve the highest attainable standard of sexual and reproductive health. These agreements further recognize the right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children.
Although we all know these rights have not yet been fully realized, we see major opportunities for progress. In particular, the U.S. welcomes the Secretary General’s Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health, which encourages investments in women and girls to meet the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – particularly MDGs 4 and 5 where progress is far off track. This strategy promotes the package of integrated services defined in Cairo and presents a unique opportunity to keep alive a global consensus to accelerate action to reduce the alarmingly high rates of maternal and child mortality and to ensure universal access to reproductive health.
Launched last fall, the Secretary General’s strategy has already garnered significant financial support. Nearly 30 countries with the highest burden of maternal deaths have made commitments to prioritize the necessary investments, especially the integration of reproductive health services. My government’s own commitment – the Global Health Initiative – aims to provide a package of integrated health services based on strong health systems that emphasize country ownership. Like the ICPD Program of Action, this initiative focuses on women, girls, and gender equality to fight disease and promote health worldwide. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a cornerstone of the Global Health Initiative, is also working to improve the reproductive health of women, as part of wide efforts to foster comprehensive HIV responses – especially prevention – that more effectively meet the needs of women and girls.
Mr. Chairman, President Obama underscored our deep commitment to eradicating extreme poverty at the MDG Summit last September. Access to reproductive health services, including family planning, is a central element of the United States’ development work. The President and Secretary Clinton recognize that the cycle of poverty can only be broken by empowering women and that improving women’s health, particularly their access to comprehensive reproductive health care, is essential. We further recognize that the health of women is closely linked to the health of their own children and the strength of future generations. Investing in women’s health is therefore key to the social and economic development of communities and nations.
Secretary Clinton has said, “Saving the lives of women and children requires a range of care, from improving nutrition to training birth attendants who can help women give birth safely. It also requires increased access to family planning. Family planning represents one of the most cost-effective public health interventions available in the world today. It prevents both maternal and child deaths by helping women space their births and bear their children during their healthiest years. And it reduces the deaths of women from unsafe abortion.” Currently there are more than 200 million married women, and uncounted millions of others, worldwide whose need for modern methods of contraception are not being met. Fulfilling this unmet need for family planning could avert almost 25 million abortions and prevent 640,000 newborn deaths.
The Obama administration is strongly committed to achieving reproductive health and protecting human rights, both domestically and around the world. So, too, are we committed to our broad and active partnerships with national governments, international organizations, civil society and philanthropic organizations, and those committed to achieving the ICPD and Millennium Development Goals. We particularly recognize the vital roles of UNFPA and UN Women, whose global leadership and collaboration with countries is critical to achieving these goals. We especially look forward to working in concert with new Executive Directors, Dr. Osotimehin and Ms. Bachelet.
Although we have made great progress in many areas since 1994, much remains to be done. We applaud the renewed commitment of countries everywhere, including the French government, which has recently pledged increased funding for West Africa where maternal mortality is among the highest and modern contraceptive use among the lowest in the world. We will continue working closely with our counterparts worldwide — not only in the ministries of health, but with foreign ministers, defense ministers, finance ministers, prime ministers and presidents — to achieve our shared commitments to reproductive health and gender equality.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, we look forward to a productive discussion with delegations on the vital links between fertility, reproductive health and social and economic development. Together we can make strong progress toward a healthier, more equitable, and ultimately, more prosperous world in which all our nations will thrive in the 21st century.