News Archives

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.


Ambassador Robinson Addresses the UNHCR Executive Committee

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for your leadership of this Committee over the past year. And thank you, Mr. High Commissioner, for your remarks this morning. And Mr. High Commissioner, thank you for your extraordinary personal leadership over this past year. You have been a tireless advocate on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people and have been a strong and persuasive voice for reform and enhancement of the international system. Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, 2011 has witnessed new crises and new opportunities. The promise of democracy throughout the Arab world is encouraging – and UNHCR’s assistance to those seeking protection from the civil unrest throughout the region is to be commended.

It is the human tragedy in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa, however, which I will use today as a lens for my remarks – and for five basic observations.

First, protection must be the fundamental goal of the international community – and UNHCR’s leadership has never been more essential. Whether the threat is forced return of refugees, improper denial of asylum, gender-based violence, blockages of humanitarian access or restrictions on freedom of movement, UNHCR must be ready to act. Organizational pressures must never be allowed to outweigh or slow-down the response to protection concerns.

Second, no one government or agency can do it alone. Nurturing and valuing long-standing partnerships while developing new ones must be the operational foundation of UNHCR’s work. These partnerships are essential to UNHCR’s role in the UN cluster system, to implementation of its urban refugee policy and Transitional Solutions Initiative, to responding effectively in emergencies when UNHCR’s capacity is stretched across major and sometimes multiple crises at once, and to meeting so many more humanitarian assistance and protection needs. Organizational mandate must never stand in the way of timely and adequate assistance.

Third, UNHCR’s response to emergencies is the most visible element of its work. It is the one that makes the headlines. Scaling up quickly to new crises must be the operating norm, not simply a plan on paper. Organizational capacity must be strengthened by a human resources policy that delivers good performance in emergency situations.

Fourth, results-based management and the ability to measure performance is no longer a new concept. It has been a major part of UNHCR’s vocabulary for nearly a decade. However, the report of the Board of Auditors for 2010 is troubling in its examination of progress. Organizational inertia must not be allowed to stand in the way of a structured and digestible analysis of progress and impact that can steer senior leadership towards priorities for intervention.

Fifth, and finally, humanitarian diplomats and humanitarian implementers must work hand-in-hand. No longer is just physical and legal assistance enough. Solutions to long-standing refugee situations require sustained and strengthened involvement in policy advocacy. We must be relentless, formidable, and effective advocates for victims of persecution, violence, and human rights abuses. We must be emboldened by a very broad conception of our humanitarian and protection responsibilities. Organizational working methods must be supported by skillful and aggressive humanitarian diplomacy at every level, as the High Commissioner so eloquently demonstrated.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the United States remains a committed partner with UNHCR and the beneficiaries it serves. We are providing more than $680 million dollars this year to the organization to assist its work across all four pillars defining its populations of concern – refugee assistance, refugee returns and reintegration, the internally displaced, and stateless persons. We know the work is not always easy – nor the solutions fast enough. We continue to salute UNHCR’s staff for what they do in often very difficult and dangerous environments. And we are resolved to continue our work as a member of the international community represented in this room today.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Statement by Ambassador Rice on World Refugee Day

On World Refugee Day, the United States renews our commitment to providing relief to the world’s refugees and commends the world’s brave humanitarians, who take daily risks to administer food, shelter and medicine to those who desperately need help. We stand with them and with millions worldwide who seek basic safety and security in which to live and work.

Sixty years ago, the world’s leaders gathered to affirm the basic principle that those who flee persecution deserve refuge. The 1951 Refugee Convention stands as a landmark in defining the rights of refugees and the obligations of states to protect them. Together with the important work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Convention reminds us that those who may lack protections due to conflict or repression still deserve recognition of their full rights and human dignity.


U.S. Contributes $126.8 Million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The United States is pleased to announce a contribution of $126.8 million toward the 2011 operations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The contribution, funded through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, will support UNHCR’s programs worldwide, including refugee returns to such places as Afghanistan and the Sudan; local integration and resettlement; and protection and life-saving assistance. U.S. funding supports the provision of water, shelter, food, healthcare, and education to refugees, internally displaced persons, and other persons under UNHCR’s care and protection in countries such as Iraq, Colombia, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda.

The contribution will directly support UNHCR’s Annual and Supplementary Program activities as indicated below.

Africa $ 39.9 million
Asia and Pacific $ 23.0 million
Europe $ 3.8 million
Global Operations $ 7.9 million
Middle East $ 49.4 million
Western Hemisphere $ 2.8 million
TOTAL $ 126.8 million

With this contribution, the United States will have provided more than $285 million toward UNHCR’s 2011 operations so far this year.

We note that this year is the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

We salute the vital and courageous work of UNHCR, its many NGO partners, and refugee hosting countries in providing protection to vulnerable people around the world.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Roundtable on Asylum-Seekers and Refugees Seeking Protection on Account of Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Thank you. It’s an honor to be here, participating in such a dynamic discussion on this critical issue. I also want to recognize the leadership of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for hosting this roundtable and commend the Agency’s ongoing efforts to enhance protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees and asylum seekers.

The Obama Administration has made clear that our comprehensive human rights agenda includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The U.S. recently joined the United Nations General Assembly core group on LGBT issues, and earlier this month the U.S. co-sponsored the high-level LGBT panel at the UN Human Rights Council. We’re very fortunate to have Secretary Clinton leading the Department of State in elevating our human rights dialogues with foreign governments and advancing public diplomacy to protect the rights of LGBT individuals. We are also leading by example, extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, making it easier for transgender Americans to amend their passports, and including gender identity along with sexual orientation in the State Department Equal Employee Opportunity Statement.

So what role do those of us who work in the refugee field play within this much broader effort to protect and empower LGBT persons worldwide? The answer is that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers and the people who work to protect and assist them are on the frontlines of this battle. We’ve all talked about what’s at stake. We know that in some countries, people are threatened, tortured and even killed for their sexual orientation or gender identity, or for not conforming to social and cultural norms about how men and women should behave, dress, or speak. LGBT individuals who have fled their own countries may continue to face serious threats in countries of asylum, where they may be isolated and reluctant to seek help. For our Bureau, ensuring LGBT refugees receive the protection and assistance to which all refugees are entitled is a priority. And it is part of our mandate.

To integrate and elevate this issue within our Bureau, we’ve established a working group on LGBT protection that includes NGO representatives, PRM staff, and other U.S. government offices involved in refugee protection and assistance. And, in collaboration with our partners, we will continue to identify areas where improvements can be made to our system of expedited resettlement for all highly vulnerable refugees.

We are also consistently and publicly articulating our position on these issues in order to set the standards for our own staff and partners; to encourage other states to meet their protection obligations; and above all, to keep faith with the victims of this type of persecution. The U.S. Delegation will be raising LGBT protection concerns in the U.S. statement on protection at the 61st session of the UNHCR Executive Committee next week, and we continue to look for ways to raise this in public forums.

This roundtable is an important start in bringing together experts on not only refugee and asylum issues more broadly, but also colleagues who can speak to a range of challenging LGBT issues that we all need to think about – including protection for transgender and intersex persons and the different risks faced by lesbian women, gay men, or bisexuals.

Though we’ve made a lot of progress in my government, we still need to institutionalize regular training on gender concepts that include LGBT issues. On the issue of gender based violence, including sexual violence, we plan to enhance our Bureau’s work on prevention and response. And we will make clear to new and current staff and partners that gender-based violence includes violence directed at individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As we’ve discussed, this violence is often rooted in destructive notions of how men and women should behave and interact, and we cannot make progress towards achieving gender equality and stopping the persecution of LGBT persons without acknowledging and addressing these fundamental problems.

To that end, we are very committed to supporting UNHCR’s efforts to effectively integrate LGBT issues into the Agency’s groundbreaking age, gender, and diversity mainstreaming (AGDM) strategy. It is very encouraging to see how seriously and thoughtfully UNHCR has been approaching this, actively seeking feedback from partners as they revise the AGD strategy. As part of that process, we are very interested in obtaining better data about the challenges for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers and learning how we might develop indicators to track our progress as part of these broader efforts at accountability. What kind of metrics can we use to see whether we are addressing the needs of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, and communicating effectively with an often invisible population? What data do we have already, and what information are we missing? As many colleagues have noted already, we also need to improve coordination within the UN system, and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the different agencies involved in human rights reporting and efforts to prevent persecution of LGBT persons in their countries of origin.

As we move forward, we should aim to be both strategic and opportunistic, integrating these issues within existing policy and programming initiatives, and public engagement opportunities, even as we develop a comprehensive strategy that will inform future efforts.

We look forward to continued collaboration in this area with all of you.

Thank you.


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