Assistant Secretary of State Gene Dewey's Press Briefing on Humanitarian Assistance

June 15, 2005

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We're on the record this afternoon with the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Also seated in front of you is Mr. Ken Isaacs, who is the head of the United States Agency for International Development's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Assistant Secretary Dewey will make a brief statement and then we'll take your questions.

A/S DEWEY: Thank you very much for coming. I would like to begin by a little bit of the background on this second bilateral humanitarian consultation between Japan and the United States. The first reason for the consultation is that Japan and the United States share many of the concerns and the practices with respect to humanitarian action around the world. Second, we had the opportunity to see conditions in the field together, when last autumn I went to the field to two of the world's most acute humanitarian emergencies, Darfur in Sudan, and Chad, with a representative of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Sato, and we had with us also the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

This consultation has provided an opportunity for information sharing between the two countries. It's also an opportunity to do brainstorming - that is, to discuss the nature of humanitarian problems with special emphasis on Africa - and to think together and act together on problem solving for some of these acute humanitarian problems. We have a common commitment and practice with Japan in making the United Nations system and multilateral agencies the center of our action for the victims of complex humanitarian emergencies in the field.

Both of our countries have skills in knowing how to make the United Nations systems work to get productivity out of the international system, and we are able to prove that that productivity is best for the victims of man-made emergencies and it's also best for the national taxpayer, because use of the United Nations permits us to share the burden, so that Japan and the United States do not have to bear a disproportionate part of the burden of caring for the victims of man-made disasters.

This consultation also gave us the opportunity to discuss how we can work with the new leadership in two very key United Nations organizations - that is, the High Commissioner for Refugees, where we have a new High Commissioner, the former prime minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres, and in the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, where we have a new executive director, Ann Veneman, who replaced Carol Bellamy. We talked about how we can work with those new leaders and get reform and greater productivity out of both UNHCR and UNICEF.

We also talked about the needs and opportunity for reform in two critical parts of the humanitarian system: first of all, the coordination part of the humanitarian system and secondly, the implementation part, particularly the implementation of humanitarian programs for internally displaced persons. The United States proposed a concept for looking at the U.N Emergency Relief Coordinator - that is, the Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in the United Nations - to look at that coordinator in a way similar to the facilitator of the Toyota Motors assembly line, making sure that all of the moving parts on that assembly line are in the right place at the right time and with the strength and the skill needed to produce the end result that is required. I think if we can agree on that definition and that role for the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, we can make a huge leap forward in terms of increasing the productivity and the effectiveness of coordination in the international system.

The second reform we talked about is the assistance to internally displaced persons in particular, but when several agencies of the United Nations are involved in a humanitarian action, it's important to have a substitute for the current collaborative approach which is used in the United Nations, and replace that with a lead agency approach where one operational agency of the United Nations is in the lead and is in charge and can be held accountable and responsible for how well or how poorly the operation goes.

I think if our two countries can work together to press this definition of U.N. coordination and to implement this practice for dealing with what is in effect the largest beneficiary population in the world - that is, the internally displaced persons. There are about 25 million internally displaced persons compared to 10 million refugees that are of concern to the High Commissioner for Refugees. If we can use these practices of reform in the humanitarian system of the U.N., I think we will have made tremendous progress.

The original focus of our discussion was Africa. We talked first about Sudan. Three specific areas: one, the fact that the horrors of human rights violations and crimes against humanity continue in Darfur. This means that there must be an strengthening of the African Union physical protection presence, but also a need for an operational capacity in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The situation in Darfur in particular, but also in other parts of Africa, underline the global food crisis which exists worldwide - the large gap in emergency food availability compared to the emergency food needs. The gap is on the order of two billion U.S. dollars of shortage of food. We are committed to work hard with other food donors to get them to do their share with respect to food contributions. This is important for Sudan, not just for the needs in Darfur, but also for the prospects of the four million internally displaced persons in Sudan coming back to their homes and the some seven hundred thousand refugees who also will hesitate to come home if their is no food for them.

A major deliverable from our discussions, that is, a major outcome of our discussions, was agreement to plan and work together on projects in Liberia and also in Ethiopia and consider projects in Zambia where community development would be the primary focus and we would have a joint pilot project between Japan and the United States.

We talked about our close collaboration with respect to Afghanistan and Iraq, the strong financial support Japan has provided for the transition efforts in both of those countries. And together, we have been able to keep the humanitarian dimension for Afghanistan and for Iraq near the top of the agenda. Let me conclude by saying that our collaboration with respect to Afghanistan shows us the makings of a success story and a model for how to do transitions from a military operation to an indigenous political authority. And I'm convinced that this good experience that Japan and the United States have been through together with respect to Afghanistan will also be very useful as we consult together on the transition problems of so many countries in crisis in Africa.

Now I'd be happy to entertain your questions.

MODERATOR: Could I please ask that you state your name and organization when you ask a question and the staff will hand you a microphone.

QUESTION: May I question in Japanese? I am Hamanishi from NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation, and my question has to do with the reform in the U.N. that you talked about. You mentioned that the U.S. is proposing a single lead aid agency within the United Nations to really lead the efforts, but what does U.S. think would be the best way to determine which agency should be that leading position? Who has the authority to decide and how best it can be decided?

A/S DEWEY: Thank you for that question. I think the selection of the lead agency - and it would be among the three operational agencies of the United Nations, that is, UNICEF, World Food Programme, or the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees - that the decision of which of those three operational agencies should lead in any particular crisis such as Darfur, should be made by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator - that is, Mr. Jan Egeland - with prior consultation with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to make sure that there is full political support from the very top of the U.N. in making that selection.

I think that you understand that the idea is to have a lead agency for every crisis, but it would not be the same one in each crisis, but it would rotate among the three, depending on which would be most appropriate for any given situation. I might just mention for Darfur, since the High Commissioner for Refugees is still heavily committed next door in Chad with two hundred thousand refugees that have come from Darfur to Chad, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland would probably not want to select UNHCR to lead a task force for IDPs in Darfur. The ERC would probably need to look to one of the other operational UN agencies, for example, the World Food program, to take the IDP lead in Darfur.

MODERATOR: A follow-up?

QUESTION: (Mr. Hamanishi, NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation) Mr. Dewey, would it be correct for me understand that on behalf of the United States government, you believe that the correct humanitarian assistance programs in the U.N. are not taking sufficient responsibility or accountability or accounting ... auditing responsibility?

A/S DEWEY: Yes, what I'm saying is that there is a need for improvement in the humanitarian response in the United Nations. We have given a great deal of thought to this. We work closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department, and we have come up with this idea, which we're sharing with Japan and with other key member states of the United Nations, as a way to increase the effectiveness for the victims of humanitarian crises and to improve the accountability in the United Nations system, so that we're able to fix either blame or success on an agency head and define the role of coordination in the United Nations as more that of a facilitator, of making sure that all of the moving organizations and the moving parts and the moving people are in place to make the operation a success.

QUESTION: My name is Kyoko Hasegawa from AFP. Do you have any idea or blueprint of how and when to propose this idea of when a leading aid organization to the U.N.?

A/S DEWEY: As I understand the question, is do we have an idea as to when ...

QUESTION: (Ms. Hasegawa, AFP) When and how to propose to the United Nations about the shared idea when the U.S. and Japan offer the improvement?

A/S DEWEY: Yes. First we have worked this out in our own government to get inter-agency agreement with this approach to accountability and increased effectiveness. The next step is to talk with other like-minded donor states such as Japan to enlist their support and their "buy in" to this proposal. And then we hope we can jointly go to the U.N Emergency Relief Coordinator and the senior leadership of the United Nations including the Secretary-General, and convince them that this is a way to improve the image of the United Nations, the accountability of the United Nations at a time when the U.N is in crisis, but most important, to improve the delivery of assistance and protection to the victims of man-made emergencies in the field.

QUESTION: I am Igarashi from Yomiuri newspaper. Has there been any discussion on the humanitarian situation in North Korea in the bilateral talks between U.S. and Japan, and how you do evaluate or assess the humanitarian situation in North Korea currently?

A/S DEWEY: Actually I have to say that our bilateral humanitarian consultation did not include that subject. It is a subject that we keep in close touch with Japan about and other concerned states, but it was not on the main agenda for our bilateral humanitarian consultation.

QUESTION: I am Mitsuru Obe of Jiji Press. Secretary Dewey, you said you want United Nations to work more as a facilitator. If it is not working as a facilitator now, what are you saying that the U.N is now doing and also, why is what you're talking about not included in the on-going U.N reform proposals put forward by the high-level panel and the Secretary-General Kofi Annan in March?

A/S DEWEY: The shortcomings in coordination in the U.N. have to do with the difficulties in facilitating a humanitarian operation, that is to make sure that all of the things needed are in place - the medical things, the food things, the logistics things are in place - and that's the job of the coordination part of the U.N., that is the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, this group that we call OCHA. That's on the facilitation side. Now on the doing side, the operational side, the current practice of having operational agencies around a table raise their hand when it comes to who will do water and sanitation, who will do camp care and maintenance, who will do food distribution - there needs to be a substitute for that discretionary waiting to see who raises their hand among the U.N agencies to having a directive appointment of lead agency and then supporting agencies that are needed to provide for all of these sectors - that is water, medical, food, the logistics support - to be sure that all those things are in place. These things are not working as efficiently now as they need to be and this is why this proposal is on the table.

The last part of your question - why weren't these specific reforms mentioned by the high-level panel? I think probably the reason is that the initial approaches to the United Nations reform focus on the political aspects - that is the reform of the Security Council, expansion of the Security Council, dealing with political problem areas in the United Nations system such as the U.N commission on human rights and the difficulties that have been experienced with the lack of effectiveness of that body of the United Nations. That tends to be the first phase of any U.N reform efforts - to look at the political and problematical parts, on the political side. I think now we're at the point where we need to get a little lower into the weeds and look at the humanitarian aspects of the United Nations that aren't working well enough and can be made to work, if we can agree on implementing these measures that I have just described.

QUESTION: You have focused on man-made disasters rather than natural disasters like the one that happened in Indonesia last year, tsunamis and earthquakes. Why is it that the two countries' discussion focus on man-made disasters? And the second question is are your discussions independent from the strategic development alliance Secretary Rice talked about here in March? The strategic development alliance that Secretary Rice made that proposal, forming that kind of alliance with Japan. Is the discussion you're having with the Japanese government now, is that completely separate from that initiative or is it part of Secretary Rice's initiative?

A/S DEWEY: As far as the strategic alliance is concerned, certainly what we have discussed with Japan in this bilateral consultation is in harmony with the strategic alliance that Secretary Rice has discussed on her visit. We have focused more on man-made disasters than natural disasters because although the needs of people are affected by both are very much the same, there are special needs with respect to man-made disasters which include a combination of physical protection, legal protection and assistance, which we don't see quite to the same degree in a natural disaster. The African region - which we focused on - exhibits the man-made disasters where refuges are produced. We have mass movement of people, internally displaced persons are created, because of bad governance or bad leaders or breakdown in law and order; lack of observance of human rights and discrimination against minorities. So this is the reason that most of our focus for this consultation was on man-made disasters as opposed to natural disasters. But often a man-made disaster is combined with a natural disaster and that's really the definition of a complex humanitarian emergency. But where the principal emergency is natural - a natural disaster - the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in the U.S. government has the lead in dealing with that, and I'll ask the Ken Isaacs, the head of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance just to describe their approach to natural disasters.

MR. ISAACS: Our talks with the government of Japan included the fuller range of disaster response. We reviewed how each government supported the tsunami relief effort. We spoke of mutual partnership opportunities for famine relief in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa and south Sudan. In additions to the suggestions and proposals for enhanced United Nations response, we also discussed some of the particular Japanese ideas and suggestions and programs for community development. We were very encouraged by some of the fine ideas and the thinking that had gone into these programs by the Japanese government. And finally, in part answer to your question of the difference between the natural and man-made disasters, the man-made disasters tend to be much longer in duration and much more complicated as Secretary Dewey said, and that is also an area of greater resource demand typically than a natural disaster.

QUESTION: Getting back to the proposals for U.N reforms that you talked about. Is there any deadline for that reform to be implemented? By when do you expect this to be implemented? And how many other countries to do you plan to get "buy in" from?

A/S DEWEY: In terms of a deadline, we know that there is an urgency for U.N reform because for decades we have not had a satisfactory system for response to the protection and the assistance needs of internally displaced persons. So that urgency means that as soon as possible, we need to try to get the United Nations to adopt these practices. In terms of consultations with other countries, Japan and the United States were represented in a recent conference called the "Donor Support Group for the Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs" which was convened in Stockholm, Sweden. So at that "Donor Support Group," we discussed these practices that the United States feels are needed in the United Nations. We asked for reaction from other countries and urged them to consider them seriously and to get back to us with their ideas, any modifications that they have in mind, or their response in terms of how they think this might contribute to United Nations reform in the humanitarian area.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much. Thank you for coming.

A/S DEWEY: Thank you for some excellent questions.