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Remarks by Secretary (West) at Symposium on World Humanitarian Summit

May 04, 2016

I am happy to be able to participate in this Symposium on an important event later this month - World Humanitarian Summit. The world faces a humanitarian crisis. That is both true and rhetorical, because in analytical terms we face not a single undifferentiated humanitarian crisis but a tragic variety of them and a tragic multiplicity of them. There are crises of movements of people, of refugee situations, of disaster situations – whether man-made or natural, there are crises born of the adverse impact of climate change – drought, desertification, extreme weather events, and of intolerable restrictions on the enjoyment of human rights. All of these add up to a humanitarian crisis but to try to address all with a single unified approach would be ineffective, inefficient, and inhumane. There are distinctions that require to be made, nuances which need to be reflected, and concerns to be flagged.

  • The number of people affected by humanitarian crises has almost doubled over the past decade and is expected to rise further. Global economic shifts, climate change, demographic changes such as rapid population growth and urbanization have exacerbated the humanitarian landscape by intensifying pressure on resources. There is a realisation that the international development aid system has fallen short of the growing humanitarian challenges.
  • The World Humanitarian Summit, convened by the UN Secretary General later this month, organised by OCHA therefore assumes significance and also generates high expectations, in terms of what it could achieve.
  • The UNSG’s report that sets out the "Agenda for Humanity", identifies the following five "Core Responsibilities" of the international community, which are also seen as critical for the UN:
    • Global leadership to prevent and end conflicts;
    • Upholding the norms that safeguard humanity; Leaving no one behind: focus on the most vulnerable;
    • Changing people's lives - From delivering aid to ending need;
    • Investing in humanity.
  • The UNSG’s Report estimates the annual deficit in humanitarian relief at US $ 15 billion. The UNSG advocates a new humanitarian aid architecture and seeks new financial arrangements to address consequences of dangerous policies, but does not refer to measures to prevent their emergence in the first place.
  • We welcome the fact that the UNSG refers to the need to increase direct and predictable financing to national and local actors, while making a provision for long-term support to develop such actors' capacity.
  • We also welcome the UNSG’s observation that additional humanitarian financing cannot come at the expense of development funding and that developed countries should fulfil their commitments to provide 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as ODA.
  • From a developing country perspective, some concerns on the Agenda set in the report do inevitably arise, these include the nature of the outcome document of the Summit and insufficient consultations with the Member States on the subject. We cannot support recommendations that carry the potential of diverting resources away from development programmes or the suggestion of an arbitrary concept of ‘equitable responsibility’ vis a vis CBDR.
  • We believe that responsibility sharing should be based on agreed principles of CBDR and not on nebulous so-called equitable responsibility sharing.
  • The focus on financing lays great emphasis on enhancing domestic resources. The methods recommended including risk management, expansion of tax coverage, complementing national investment with other forms of cooperation, facilitating public-private partnership, etc., these are national responsibilities. Furthermore, it is not very clear how societies or states facing severe socio-economic strain are expected to have economic and financial infrastructure to undertake such complex activities or faced with emergencies they should expend resources on these.
  • There is a call for complementarity and greater levels of inter-operability between the UN system and other international humanitarian agencies in achieving sustainable and collective outcomes rather than coordination of individual projects and activities, recommending that UN system 'must move beyond the comfort of traditional silos, able to work across mandates, sectors and institutional boundaries'. These are noble sentiments but could be confused in implementation.
  • Mandate creep among a number of UN funds and programme has to be avoided. The need to avoid diversion of resources from development programmes to what may be labelled as humanitarian actions has to be acknowledged.
  • Furthermore, any effort at reducing or diluting the need to require Member States endorsement for commitment of resources would not be supported. This is an essential and relevant principle.
  • This is particularly important for Least Developed Countries and other aid receiving countries. If implemented in an undifferentiated manner the assistance that LDCs for instance receive could be diverted almost arbitrarily.
  • Looking at the entire issue of development through the prism of a humanitarian crisis is most likely to result in skewed priorities with a potential adverse impact on the essential developmental needs of those societies which are facing multiple and urgent crises as understood on their territory.
  • Turning to the immediate - the root causes for the ongoing humanitarian emergencies - the largest movement of people since the Second World War, are deeply embedded in the recent conflicts in countries such as Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria. It is clear that there are fundamental issues surrounding the failure of UN Security Council in preventing the emergence of grave conflict situations in these countries leading to a humanitarian crisis. This also points starkly to the need for urgent reform of the UN Security Council.
  • In the absence of strong political leadership to find sustainable solutions, there is a real danger of the humanitarian situation worsening further.
  • While the World Humanitarian Summit may try to establish new ways to address the humanitarian challenges, in our view the salience of the Charter of the United Nations is not diminished. It is imperative for the sake of impartiality, neutrality and effectiveness of the humanitarian action that in general assistance be provided only with the consent of and at the request of the affected country.
  • The UN should focus on playing a central role in providing leadership and coordination to the efforts of the international community to support strengthening its response capacity in a cost effective and timely manner.
  • This support can include capacity building at local, national and regional levels through training, development of local leadership, thrust towards innovation and resilience building; strengthening of national actors, and so forth.
  • The High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing has reported that only 0.2% of reported humanitarian funding is channelled directly to local and nationals organisations, which in other words means that 99.8% of funds are used by those who have no or little knowledge on the ground. This results in a series of sub-contracting arrangements which ultimately make the system ineffective and inefficient.
  • The World Humanitarian Summit should also work out a robust mechanism for adequate & sustained financial support from the developed world, at concessional terms and conditions.
  • We look forward to the World Humanitarian Summit creating a mechanism for smooth transition from relief to rehabilitation and development. There is also a need for strengthening of the coordination mechanism of emergency assistance, recovery and long term development so as to ensure effectiveness of humanitarian and development action.
  • We believe there is no alternative to transparency, accountability and efficiency. This is also applicable to the humanitarian field and to humanitarian actors.
  • The World Humanitarian Summit is taking place against the backdrop of the Refugee crisis in Europe. Some comments on this would be in order.
  • The terms ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ are being used interchangeably which blurs the distinction between these two distinct categories and limits the obligations of countries of refuge to provide protection to refugees.
  • Let me say that efforts such as the EU-Turkey deal, which tries to stem the flow of asylum seekers and irregular migrants travelling across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands is apparently a deviation from the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as the latter obligates the receiving States' Parties to provide protection to people in need, and also adhere to the principle of non-refoulement.
  • As per the 1951 Refugee Convention and Protocol, Refugees are those who move out of their countries of origin because of threat to their lives and are in need of protection. Migration, on the other hand, is a voluntary process by which an individual chooses to move out of the country seeking employment opportunities, subject to the receiving relevant travel documents from the destination country. As a result, the destination country has the right to admit or deny entry of such migrants. Moreover, international migration should be seen in the context of demand and supply of workforce. Hence, the emphasis in such cases should be on the developmental dimension of migration.
  • The blurring of the distinction between migrants and refugees is therefore a worrisome trend.
  • India has been generally supportive of the principles of burden sharing and solidarity in respect of refugees. However, we have reservations in case there is an attempt to call for a so-called 'equitable or shared responsibility' to address refugee crises.
  • In conclusion let me reaffirm India’s commitment to providing humanitarian assistance as per our ability and national circumstances, to neighbouring and other friendly countries, based on their request and conscious of the gravity of the problem. We have amply demonstrated such commitment to support neighbouring countries, more recently, during the Nepal Earthquake in 2015.
Let me also end by saying that the subject of this colloquium is a complex one – in terms of concepts and in terms of implementation. The blurring of essential distinctions may lead to a dangerous simplification and a divisive debate which would take away from alleviating the suffering of those in need – whether in their homes or those who feel compelled to flee.


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