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Commentary on the Briefing by UN High Commissioner for the Refugees

by Cem ZORLULAR, Lightmillennium.Org
Prospect Youth Representative for 2012

Related Report:
H.E. António GUTERRES: "There is 28 million people, who have been internally displaced
due to natural disasters or internal conflicts such as Palestinians."

As pointed out by Ms. Maria Luisa-Chavez, the Chief of NGO Relations in the Department of Public Information, Mr. Antonio Guterrez gave one of the most candid speeches by a high level UN official in the recent history. I hope that this will mark the start of an ongoing tradition of candidness and open discussion of the inabilities and restrictions the United Nations has. The civil society will not pull their support from the UN upon hearing its deficiencies as demonstrated by the level of contentment of NGO representatives in the meeting. Everyone in the civil society has a stake in the United Nations. Therefore they will be more than willing to listen to what problems UN is facing and would be delighted to partake in the discussions in search for a solution.

Therefore it made us even happier to hear that the UNHCR is trying to take the NGO on board through implementing them into the decision process, in addition to the execution partnership. The method however is not as exciting. According to Mr. Guterrez, NGOs wishing to take part through input in the UNHCR process will need to go through an umbrella organization which will represent the collective views of the NGOs. While one might advocate that this is the only way that UN can deal with the surging amount of input; it still is quite contrary to the process of NGOs. Most of the NGOs are strangers to the bureaucratic system of working, they are rather entrepreneurial entities driven by the passion their workers have in most of the cases. Therefore it would me much functional to include more directly. Ways are numerous: they could be asked to send their comments directly in response to draft proposals, invited to informal discussion sessions or asked to propose projects that are related to the areas they are working on. In fact this way of approaching the problem can also save time and resources for the United Nations.

At the very least however, the open areas for discussion provided by the candidness of the High Commissioner allow the NGOs to look at the problems from a different perspective. Discussion on the legal issues surrounding the refugees and draught allowed the audience ponder and act on legal phenomenon they might not have initially considered yet. His speech has shown us that NGOs must take a more proactive stance in trying to force the governments to try to solve the legal issues that will emerge in the following years. While UN has absolutely no recourse for success in this issue, being a non-partisan institution, NGOs can prevent disasters by forcing governments to solve legal framework of the future refugee crises from today.

The NGOs must act on those issues that can develop to be very problematic. The current mandate only grants refugee status to those who are oppressed by the stated in certain ways. Any deviation from this definition may disqualify a person whose only recourse of survival is through protective asylum. Currently we are seeing governments trying to shy away from their responsibilities citing popular xenophobic sentiments. Therefore it is very easy for a state today to reject an asylum seeker if he/she does not fit squarely into the definition. This might prove a problem in future, especially keeping the global warming in mind. If for example, there is a growing concern for food deprivation, the states may refuse to protect those whose lands have become impossible to live in. Whatever the solution is, we do not have that much time when the problem arrives, and therefore we must discuss them as soon as possible.

Another problem discussed by Mr. High Commissioner was how UNs political mandates conflicted with its humanitarian stance thus resulting in hostilities. In many cases, because its humanitarian mandate is supplemented by another mandate that requires a military aid to one side of the conflict, UN naturally becomes an enemy for the one side. Mr. Guterrez proposes that we should eliminate any political mandate the UN has: however this is impossible. In the majority of the cases we have to support a side. It is not acceptable for the UN to stay neutral when it is a revolutionary war against a dictator. Not only this is wrong on moral grounds but also the individual political leaders who dictate the direction UN take political leverage through waging war on dictators. However there is a way out: the NGOs have a great exposure in the local community. They enjoy specific knowledge as well as support from the locals. UN can use the wide network of NGOs to distribute the aid. He has cited that 30 NGO people were killed during last year. Where this still is too much the ratio still is much lower compared to the UN workers. Therefore UN could try to become an advisory agent rather than the decisive and the implementing one. The fact is the impact that the NGOs can make is much more, if not the same. Moreover they do not face the bureaucratic challenges the United Nations faces.

All in all, I would like to thank Mr. Guterrez for his candidness once again; he has given a great level of insight to the civil community through his points, statements and answers to the questions.

- . -

Related Report:
H.E. António GUTERRES: "There is 28 million people, who have been internally displaced
due to natural disasters or internal conflicts such as Palestinians."

Cem Zorlular, Light Millennium, Prospect Youth Representative of the organization for 2012 to the Department of Public Information of the United Nations, and student at Columbia University.

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