Explanation of Position on an Omnibus Resolution on the UN Refugee Agency

Jason Mack
Counselor for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 16, 2020


Thank you, Madam Chair

The United States is joining consensus on the resolution before us to underscore our commitment to supporting the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to alleviate suffering, provide protection and humanitarian assistance, and respect the dignity of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons, and other persons of concern. We appreciate Norway’s facilitation of this text during these unique circumstances.

However, we regret that the resolution before us today contains language that runs counter to U.S. law and policy. As a result, we cannot support the text without reservation or comment.

Specifically, we dissociate from consensus on the language in operative paragraph 33. The United States joins the international community in opposing arbitrary detention, consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States, U.S. obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, and U.S. commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Arbitrary detention violates human rights and fundamental freedoms and undermines the rule of law. The United States condemns the arbitrary arrest and detention of any persons, including migrants, asylum seekers, and stateless persons. We are deeply concerned about this issue.

While the United States opposes arbitrary detention, there are certain cases where the detention of persons, including migrants and asylum seekers, is lawful and necessary to the maintenance of public safety and national security. States protect their citizens from organized crime, terrorism, and illicit trade, consistent with their obligations under domestic and international law. In certain instances, U.S. law requires that certain people remain in U.S. government custody pending adjudication of their immigration proceedings, in which their requests for protection are adjudicated.

Regarding alternative forms of detention, the United States is already using an Alternatives to Detention program that uses case management and electronic monitoring to ensure adult aliens released into the community comply with their release conditions. The United States maintains its sovereign right to enforce its immigration laws and to determine whom to admit to its territory, subject to its international obligations. Therefore, recognizing states’ authority to detain persons where it is lawful and necessary, we cannot support operative paragraph 33.

Despite our reservation above, we support this resolution because of UNHCR’s work to alleviate human suffering and provide principled, impartial, needs-based assistance, which is at the core of UNHCR’s operations and, indeed, all humanitarian response.

We are disappointed that some continue to politicize this resolution.

We request that our dissociation be reflected in the record for this agenda item.

Thank you, Madam Chair.