[Humanitarian] UNHCR Executive Committee/60th Session, General Debate
Statement by Ambassador Christian Strohal
Permanent Representative of Austria
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The Austrian delegation aligns itself with the intervention made by the Presidency of the European Union.
Let me join in the words of welcome for the new members Moldova and Djibouti. We are looking forward to our close cooperation.
I would like to start by expressing my appreciation and gratitude to the High Commissioner for his tireless efforts to improve the situation of refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR.
In his comprehensive opening speech the High Commissioner made reference to the current difficult operating environment of UNHCR given the worldwide financial, economic and social crisis and the global mega-trends he has identified. This crisis certainly poses a considerable challenge to the work of UNHCR, as it not only negatively impacts on the operating environment of UNHCR, but also severely aggravates the situation of those already suffering the most. It should not detract, however, from obligations under International Refugee Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.
With regard to the High Commissioner's emphasis on protection, the centre-piece of his mandate, let me refer first to current efforts of Austria: The promotion of the rule of law and the protection of civilians have long been a priority of Austria's work in the UN, and they are currently guiding our work in the Security Council. Against the background of the 10th anniversary of the Security Council's first specific consideration of the protection of civilians in armed conflict, we consider it particularly important to reinvigorate our commitment to protect civilians from the devastating effects of armed conflict. Thus, we will put special emphasis on this issue during our Security Council Presidency in November, and we appreciate our cooperation with the High Commissioner in this regard, as well as with the High Commissioner on Human Rights.
In this context, too, Austria shares the High Commissioner's concern of shrinking humanitarian space. In this regard we consider it important to raise questions as to how the effectiveness of protection mandates of Peacekeeping missions could be improved, how the protection of civilians through the rule of law can be strengthened, and how to better equip the Security Council to address protection concerns in relation to specific situations and missions.
Here in Geneva, Austria looks forward to the upcoming "Dialogue on Protection Challenges", an initiative we have highly appreciated since its launch in 2007. Austria stands ready to support efforts of finding durable solutions to protracted refugee situations, in particular in the Western Balkans. Austria is especially concerned about the deplorable situation in Bosnia, where not only IDPs, but also those who have returned, are still facing severe difficulties. That is why the last dialogue in December 2008 was of particular interest to Austria, as it focused on protracted refugee situations, among others regarding Croatian and Bosnian refugees in Serbia. Austria equally looks forward with great interest to the upcoming dialogue on urban refugees in December.
Austria is deeply concerned about the situation of millions of internally displaced people worldwide and, in particular, in Darfur. We want to stress that returns have to be safe, voluntary and dignified. Security conditions have to be created which are conducive to the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
I would finally like to mention an issue that Austria considers very important in the work of UNHCR, namely the protection of women and girls. Women and girls often are the victims of gender violence and they are the most vulnerable in refugee situations. Austria regards the protection of women and girls of paramount importance and appreciates the efforts undertaken by UNHCR in this regard. We are particularly grateful for the High Commissioner's personal commitment in this field.
Lastly, let me express Austria's support for the ambitious reform process of UNHCR that is currently under way. We particularly welcome the efforts of de-centralisation and regionalisation with the aim of a stronger presence in the field.
Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, let me commend UNHCR and its staff members for their achievements in the field of refugee assistance and protection over the past year. I particularly salute those of UNHCR who work relentlessly under extremely difficult circumstances in the field.
I thank you Mr. Chairman.