Statement on Agenda Item 61, “Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”

Courtney R. Nemroff
Acting U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 15, 2019


Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The United States voted yes 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. Alleviating human suffering, and providing principled, impartial, needs-based assistance, must be at the core of UNHCR’s operations and, indeed, all humanitarian response. We particularly appreciate the flexibility and the spirit of collaboration as exemplified by the following paragraphs:

recalling the Global Compact on Refugees, emphasizing efficient and effective burden- and responsibility-sharing (OP18-19), and broadening the base of countries and actors engaged (OP51);

condemning violence against humanitarian personnel (PP7) and persons of concern (OP29); and

addressing protection needs of vulnerable individuals or people in the context of mixed movement (OP54).

However, we regret that the resolution before us today contains language that runs counter to U.S. policy.

Specifically, we dissociate from consensus on the language in operative paragraph 32.

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 are entitled to take measures to mitigate irregular border crossings and 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 removal proceedings and requests for protection.

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. Regarding alternative forms of detention, the United States is already using an Alternatives to Detention program that has been effective in monitoring, but has not yet been effective in ensuring immigrants will appear in court or adhere to other release conditions. Therefore, recognizing states’ authority to detain persons where it is lawful and necessary, we cannot support paragraph 32.

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.