High Commissioner for Refugees Briefing
Expected Council Action
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (High Commissioner), António Guterres, is expected to brief the Council on 8 January. He will highlight significant refugee issues and situations involving widespread displacement and underline links with threats to international peace and security. It is unclear whether Council members plan any Council action as a result of the briefing.
The High Commissioner was last invited to address the Council on 24 January 2006.
Interaction between the Council and the High Commissioner for Refugees
The Council’s willingness to draw on the High Commissioner’s expertise has varied over time, despite the acknowledged links between peacemaking, peacekeeping and humanitarian crisis involving refugees and population displacement.
The first High Commissioner to address the Council was Sadako Ogata in March 1993 during the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia, when millions were displaced. But her briefings routinely covered many other situations of concern. Council members found her inputs helpful, and refugee issues appeared on the Council’s agenda with increasing frequency in her ten-year term, during which she addressed the Council on 12 separate occasions (including public and non-public meetings).
Ogata highlighted the inextricable connection between refugees and contemporary conflicts in her last briefing to the Council in November 2000. This was due to the primarily internal and intercommunal nature of these conflicts. Factors such as the brutal expulsion of entire communities from specific areas have become commonplace and often a key driver of instability. Refugee flows from internal conflicts have threatened peace and security across borders in many areas.
Ogata also agreed strongly that in post-conflict situations, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, if well managed, can contribute to the reestablishment of peace. She emphasised that “durable stability may be difficult to achieve without the return of refugees and displaced persons.” Ogata also outlined how a humanitarian response is unlikely to succeed unless it is accompanied by an adequate security response.
Since Ogata left the post of High Commissioner in 2000, briefings to the Council have become much less frequent. Ogata’s successor, Ruud Lubbers, addressed the Council four times during the course of his term as High Commissioner from 2001 to 2005. Guterres’ briefing on 8 January will be only his second since assuming office in 2005.
Guterres is expected to discuss the interface between UNHCR’s role and that of the Council. He is likely to raise significant issues and situations where the Council’s attention and action may be warranted.
A key issue of concern to the High Commissioner is the linkage between current trends of forced displacement and the peace and peacebuilding agenda. He is likely to identify specific challenges faced in responding to the needs of affected populations throughout the cycle of displacement. For example, the protection of civilians, and particularly the vulnerability of women and children in refugee populations is likely to be emphasised.
Protection of refugees and the search for durable solutions are at the core of UNHCR’s mandate. The High Commissioner may raise issues where the Council could be more active in recognising refugee situations that are currently beyond the global spotlight. .
Particular field situations with consequences for global security (such as Pakistan/Afghanistan) and those with more regional impact (like the Democratic Republic of Congo- DRC) are also likely to be discussed. On a thematic level, he may address new dynamics in forced displacement, including the emergence of new forms of displacement triggered by acute poverty, lack of access to natural resources and climate change. Given the severity of recent examples, he may also address the issue of the physical security of refugees and internally displaced persons, including sexual violence against women and girls (recently occurring in Chad, the DRC, and the Central African Republic) and attacks on refugee camps, as recently seen in Darfur.
One possible theme of the High Commissioner’s briefing might be the importance of the Council’s role in acting at an earlier stage to address emerging problems of forced displacement of populations and, thus, preventing the humanitarian and security crises that can result. He is also likely to underline that durable solutions to refugee crises ultimately lie in the political rather than humanitarian domain and hence the importance of a larger and earlier Council role.
France (which holds the Council presidency in January 2009), took the initiative to propose that the High Commissioner address the Council. Other members of the Council are likely to be broadly supportive of the High Commissioner’s objectives. However, the fact that the High Commissioner’s briefings to the Council have become fewer and more sporadic in recent years suggests that members may have forgotten the value that the Council derives from regular High Commissioner briefings in the past.
Given the practical importance of refugee issues to many of the issues on the Council agenda, some members seem likely to favour recommencing more frequent and regular briefings by the High Commissioner. In the context of recent international humanitarian and refugee crises in DRC, Afghanistan and Somalia, country-specific briefings by the High Commissioner may add value to the Council’s future work.
António Guterres (2005 to present)
2006 (24 January)
Ruud Lubbers (2001 to 2005)
2004 (20 May)
2002 (7 February)
2001 (9 January and 8 March)
Sadako Ogata (1990 to 2000)
2000 (13 January and 10 November)
1999 (5 May)
1998 (21 April)
1997 (28 April)
1996 (28 June and 25 October)
1993 (11 March)
(We have been unable to determine the dates for four occasions on which Sadako Ogata met with the Council.)
Selected Security Council Agendas
Selected Council Meeting Records