Heads of field presences meeting
18 November 2002
Discurso durante encontro com as lideranças do OHCHR, 18 de novembro de 2002
Statement by Sergio Vieira de Mello
I am very happy to welcome you here in Palais Wilson for a meeting which I very much hope will serve truly to reinvigorate our efforts to place the field at the centre of the work of our Office.
We come together at a very interesting moment: two important reports have recently been issued which have a bearing on what we do and how we do it:
First, the Secretary-General, in his report on the “Strengthening of the UN…”, has reiterated that the promotion and protection of human rights is crucial to the realization of the Charter’s vision. While good (but insufficient) progress has been made in integrating human rights throughout the UN system, the SG has indicated that the capacity of the UN to assist countries in building strong human rights institutions needs to be further strengthened. Specifically, the SG refers to the Millennium Declaration and the commitment of governments to implement the principles and practices of human rights.
A principal objective of our work must therefore be the creation of strong national protection systems.
At the same time, we have to increase our capacity to work with UN country teams, to train and assist them, to develop benchmarks so as to measure the impact of human rights action at country level, and to develop partnerships with regional and national entities.
Secondly, the OIOS in its report on OHCHR, has pointed out the obvious: that field activities are crucial in contributing to the strengthening of the rule of law and the advancement of human rights. OIOS observed, however, that this operational expansion was often undertaken in an ad hoc manner rather than being driven by clear strategies and priorities. There are a number of challenges, as OIOS sees it, that OHCHR faces with regard to the way ahead in the field:
- The Office does not have the capacity to be present in every country; OHCHR should have a clear vision of what it expects to accomplish in a given timeframe. It is essential to develop short, medium and longer-term plans that would enable each such mission to define an entry point, a reasonable set of time-bound, achievable targets for its activities, and a clear, appropriate exit strategy;
- OHCHR needs to determine the precise focus of its engagement and its own comparative advantage;
- A balance should be determined between monitoring, protection and advocacy and technical cooperation, keeping in mind the possible role of other UN entities; and
- There is a need to decide how to employ the limited resources of a particular field presence, making full use of the potential of local NGOs and other national partners.
OIOS also noted that there is a pressing need for a Field Presence Manual, including guidelines on financial and staff regulations and rules with updates sent to the field on new policies, directives and instructions, as well as for enhanced Headquarters’ administrative support to field presences. This would not only serve to keep you better informed but would relieve desk officers from the burden of administrative matters and allow them to concentrate on substantive issues.
It is worth bearing in mind our relative youth: this is not an excuse for many of our weaknesses, but it is an explanation. OHCHR did not have any field presences before 1992: today we have human rights offices in over 35 countries worldwide and some 250 staff working for us in the field. This perspective is important.
In addition to the report of both the SG and OIOS, you will know, better certainly than I, what the mission statement of OHCHR says with respect to our field work:
“…OHCHR field presences have been established with a view to ensuring that international human rights standards are progressively implemented and realized at country level, both in law and practice. This is to be accomplished through the setting up or strengthening of national human rights capacities and national human rights institutions; the follow-up to the recommendations of human rights treaty bodies and the mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights and the creation of a culture of human rights. An essential condition for the success of field presences is that governments, national institutions, NGOs, as well as UN Country Teams are increasingly empowered to take on human rights related activities on their own, within the context of regional and sub-regional strategies.”
The challenge, of course, is to align our on-going efforts in that direction and to find effective ways to measure the success of our work. This meeting should first and foremost provide answers to a number of important questions. For me, its main objectives are:
- To arrive at a common understanding of the core mission of OHCHR and the specific role of the field to that end;
- To share information on action we will be, and are, taking to implement previous reform recommendations, the new information strategy of the Office, the change management programme applied to the field, IT technology and remote access to our internal data bases and our email system, emergency and other preparedness procedures, and security, administrative and financial matters – including resources mobilization and fundraising,
- To start today the preparation of a manual for field presences covering standard policy and administrative matters;
- To enhance cooperation and partnership between our Office and the rest of the UN system. On Friday, USG Guehénno and I will sign a revised MOU with DPKO;
- To clarify the functions and priorities of the regional representatives; and
- To enhance public awareness of our field work with donors and other partners and increase the opportunities for timely action or advocacy on the part of our Office.
There are a set of documents which have been made available to you ahead of this meeting that contain information on core policy issues as well as on administrative matters. These papers are the nucleus of an OHCHR Manual for Field work which I am committed to have finalized in 2003 – building on this week’s discussions. Over the next few days, we will address not only core aspects of OHCHR work in connection with gender, mainstreaming human rights, work of treaty bodies and mechanisms of the Commission on HR, and promotion and protection functions, but also future directions for field presences and what may constitute benchmarks for measuring success in terms of field work.
From my own personal experience in the field, the following elements are crucial:
a) A clear mission statement for each mission: what is it that we intend to achieve?; what are our short, medium and long term objectives?; how can we empower the UNCT and national institutions and national organizations in ensuring that human rights are fully incorporated into their work?; and how can they themselves follow up on the recommendations of treaty bodies and mechanisms of the Commission on HR?
b) Duration of the mission: When is the project to be completed?; how do we measure success in the process?; and what are realistic benchmarks?
c) Proper training of staff: Including enhancing understanding of the mission itself and their role in it, as reflected in the context of their individual work plans, and as evaluated in their PAS;
d) Proper substantive and administrative backstopping from HQ;
e) Proper information sharing and reporting procedures between HQ and field offices;
f) Better knowledge of financial requirements and the budgetary process, together with consistent involvement in advocacy and fundraising efforts in each field presence so as to secure stable and predictable funding; and
g) Ensuring adequate focus is place on security considerations.
In this connection, it is essential that communications with the host Government are as open and predictable as we possibly can and that dialogue is maintained with them at all times. It is equally necessary to regularly brief donor countries and bilateral and multilateral development agencies present in the country about our action and activities and our funding needs.
As international machinery exists to review the application nationally of international human rights norms, our measure of success will be our capacity to ensure progress in human rights, particularly in those areas identified by UN experts (treaty bodies, rapporteurs, etc.) as being weak or contrary to international standards, and to do that in full cooperation with the Governments concerned. UNCTs may be able to do a great deal in this regard. They too should be empowered to follow up on those recommendations and we should seize this opportunity immediately by sharing such information with them and encouraging them to set up thematic working groups on human rights to enhance their capacity to do human rights work.
This approach would render the entire discourse on HR much more pragmatic and would offer quantifiable measures of progress or lack thereof, year after year. A sense of shared objectives and vision will increase our capacity to be a reliable and effective partner and enable us to make our own significant contribution to the Organization’s efforts for peace, development and the promotion and protection of human rights.
As to the measures of success, I would like to say that while it depends on the specific mandate of each mission, it must also in all cases be to enhance the capacity at the national level to promote and protect human rights; to help create or strengthen institutions and infrastructures that will be able to carry on human rights work once we have left the country, with effective support from civil society and NGOs. Our success will also depend on our keeping the focus on the victims of violations, oppressions and discrimination and providing – in close cooperation with the humanitarian actors – a measure of relief for those most vulnerable and at risk – like IDPs.
Our exit strategy must be conceived not as an abdication of responsibilities but rather as marking the accomplishment of our core mission and as successful mainstreaming. The duration of this process, of course, differs from country to country yet the notion of working with and through partners must be on our mind from the design of a project and inform our action throughout.
In conclusion, I would like to focus on two issues, in particular.
First, is the need I feel to have improved reporting from the field to Geneva, and also back again. I am still new here so my observations may be off the mark, but I have the impression that we do not always maximize the value that we have in a small but nonetheless significant network of field presences. It is vital that our people in the field report back to Geneva on a systematic basis, as well as when necessary on particular developments. Our collaboration with UN agencies and programmes, as well as other Departments of the Secretariat, should also be increased – including through direct contacts between desk officers, indeed at all levels.
Only by doing so will we here be able to develop a clear and comprehensive picture of the human rights situations in your respective areas of work. Only by having that will we – and I – be in a position truly to help you in moving forward with your agendas.
The role of OHCHR Permanent Task Force on Emergencies with respect to identifying emerging human rights situations could be further enhanced with your support so that appropriate and timely input may be made to the various Executive Committees as well as the SMG.It is critical that both the field and those in Geneva who receive this information bring to my attention, as quickly as possible, information which will allow us to act in a focused, well researched and timely manner.
Secondly, I am going to do my utmost to ensure that a career in the field is not the same as exile to the field in perpetuity. I have spent the bulk of my career with an agency – UNHCR – that had a policy of rotation of personnel from the field to headquarters and back again. I have seen its benefits. I am keen to try to implement something similar here: no-one in Geneva should be denied the opportunity to acquire valuable field expertise, just as no-one in the field should be denied the opportunity to come to work in Geneva. Calibre of performance should be the only criteria.
This will not happen overnight. I have been in the system long enough to appreciate that it is often the most common sense of proposals that are the most difficult to achieve. But you have my word that personnel concerns – from job stability through to job satisfaction and having access to the widest possible array of options within OHCHR – will be one of my core priorities.