Humanitarian agencies such as the Red Cross, Action Aid and UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) play an important role in ensuring that states uphold and protect the Human Rights Declaration. Although upholding the Declaration is traditionally the work of the state, in their decision-making, most of these humanitarian organizations affect individuals, thus shifting human rights obligation to them too (Heupel, 2011). From its establishment in 1950, UNHCR has grown to become one of the leading and most respected humanitarian organizations, with two Nobel Peace Prizes for its work. The organization, through its dynamics, structure, management and organizational principles has been on the forefront in championing the plight of uprooted individuals. This, the organization has done, under the umbrella of its parent organization, UN, which has played a vital role in human rights respect, despite allegation of the contrary (Heupel, 2011). These allegations come, even as more doubts continue to pile on the effectiveness of the organization (UN) and its agencies, especially with growing membership, and therefore, increase in monitoring and operations in these new territories. Noteworthy however, is the fact that the organization and its agencies such as UNHCR have a positive effect, given the principles and management that they were all founded.
In its operation, UNHCR works to ensure the achievement of its primary goals. According to its website, the three very important goals that the organization works to see achieved are, saving lives, restoring hope and finding a home for the displaced or migrating individuals due to one reason or another (UN n.d.). To help in the achievement of these goals the organization has to respond rapidly to any situations and areas of crisis, in collaboration with its partners. The dynamics of the operations here involve the identification of groups in dire need and prioritization of the groups in dire need for the distribution of aid items that include hygiene sets, mattresses, and blankets among other necessities. While this is the common response to areas of need, the dictates of a situation always call for a quick response and the strengthening of response capacity.
While the situation for response traditionally determines the kind of response the organization takes, UNHCR customarily engages short-term modes of operation (Walkup, 2007; Wigley, 2005). The short-term modes are especially important in responding to a crisis, given that they allow the organization to respond effectively to a crisis. However, according to Wigley (2005), such short-term modes of planning are inappropriate as they blind the organization from effective reflection and long-term planning. Aside from the short-term operation mode, UNHCR has a bureaucratic form of operation, whose purpose is to ensure self-perpetuation. The bureaucracy additionally, is an attempt by the organization to control and contain the environment within which it operates (Wigley, 2005).
Perhaps the bureaucracy of the organization is easily visible through its organizational structure. At the helm of the organization, is the High Commissioner, based in Geneva. Currently Fillipo Grandi is the High Commissioner, responsible for overseeing the operations of the entire organization. Under the High Commissioner are the Deputy High Commissioner and two assistant High Commissioners. The two assistants are responsible for protection and operations, reporting directly to the High Commissioner (ODMS, 2016).
Under the Deputy High Commissioner are four divisions that deal with different entities of the organizations. The divisions include Division of External Relations, Division of Financial and Administrative Management (DFAM), Division of Human Resource Management (DHRM) and the Division of Information Systems and Telecommunication (DIST). The Division of External Relations is responsible for coordination of donor relations and resource mobilization, while DFAM houses the office of the Controller, responsible for financial management of the organization (ODMS, 2016). On the other hand, DHRM works on HR policy and planning, the health of the staff and welfare service as well as compensation, promotion and career management of the staff (ODMS, 2016). DIST is responsible for the organization’s business relationship management and customer support services.
Under the Assistant High Commissioner (protection) is the Division of International Protection. This division is accountable for the formulation of policy and law, protection operational support and comprehensive solutions. Each of these responsibilities has an assistant director who oversees their working (ODMS, 2016). Further, under the Assistant High Commissioner (operations) are more divisions that include the Division of Program Support and Management (DPSM), Division of Emergency, Security and Supply (DESS) and the Regional Bureaus for Africa, Americas, Asia and Pacific, Europe, Middle East and North Africa. A Staff Council completes the entire organization structure of UNHCR (see figure 1 for the structure).
Fig. 1. UNHCR Organizational Structure (ODMS, 2016).
The structure of UNHCR provides a window of view into the management of the organization. Each of the divisions of the organization has a director and assistant directors responsible for the operations of the different divisions. Through the directors and the assistant directors, UNHCR can perform its mandates as required from its inception. Important to note however, is that while most of these functions operate from within the headquarters in Geneva, other functions have their base of operations and management from the organization’s offices in Budapest and Copenhagen.
Under the Division of External Relations, functions such as Events Campaigns and Goodwill Ambassadors section, Strategic Communication Section, Private Sector Fundraising Services and Digital Engagement Sections are all managed from Copenhagen (ODMS, 2016). Spreading the management of these functions in other cities ensure diversity in not only the personnel, but also in the results that the organization eventually has with its operations. The different divisions managed by directors and assistant directors all report to the Deputy High Commissioner and Assistant High Commissioners under whose jurisdiction the divisions fall. The Deputy High Commissioner and Assistant High Commissioners then report to the Higher Commissioner, under whose office is the Executive Office of the High Commissioner, as the chief of the cabinet. Operational instructions, therefore, come from this office. Additionally, under the office of the High Commissioner are the Policy Development and Evaluation Services, Office of the Inspector General, the Ethics Office and the Liaison Office in New York.
The organization of UNHCR into divisions is to ensure that the organization has a working structure that enables it perform its functions. The divisions work in attaining the goals set by the organization at its inception. Given its dealing with refugees and displaced individuals, the organization has guiding principles to ensure the respect for human rights in dealing with the refugees and the internally displaced individuals. The first principle guiding the operations of UNHCR is the enjoyment of full equity, rights and freedom by the internally displaced and refugees as provided for by both international and domestic law (UN, 2001). According to this principle, the operations and protection offered to the refugees and IDPs are to be without prejudice.
The second principle in their operation is that protecting the human rights of the IDPs and refugee shall be observed by all authorities, without affecting the legal status of the authorities or entities (UN, 2001). The third principle deals with national authorities and requires the authorities to take responsibility of providing protection a humanitarian assistance to refugees and IDPs, with the IDPS having the right to request and receive protection and humanitarian assistance from the said authorities (UN, 2001).
In theory, these principles are in place to ensure equitable distribution of resources and aid among the refugees and IDPs in times of crisis. Specifically, these principles aim at the upholding humanitarian principles and ensuring the protection of the human rights of the individuals who the humanitarian activities serve (Riera & Poirier, 2014). As part of the bigger United Nation, the principles are to ensure the respect for human rights, regardless of the status of the individuals. Partnership with other organizations, especially faith-based organizations, creates room for violation of human rights by the faith-based organizations including exclusion, incitement of violence against some communities or faiths as well as hate speech.
In its role as a UN agency, it is the responsibility of UNHCR to ensure that there is consistent protection of human rights in its involvement with faith-based and humanitarian organizations. Ensuring the protection of human rights, however, becomes a challenge for UNHCR during emergencies, especially at times when the partner organizations take a charity-based rather than a human rights-based approach in providing humanitarian assistance (Riera & Poirier, 2014). The charity-based approach does not traditionally involve the victims, a mistake that takes the decision from the IDPs and refugees to the humanitarian organization. Thus, while the solutions provided by the humanitarian organizations may be sound, effective and feasible, they fail due to the bureaucracy within the humanitarian organizations (Gooda, 2012).
However, regardless of these challenges, the UN has improved in its respect and protection of human rights, especially issuing sanctions against hostile countries. Thus, while the initial issuance of sanctions had followed a blanket embargo on everything against states, there have been improvements in the sanctions, most of which have taken selective measure, imposing the sanction on items such as gold, diamond and arms, to ensure the right to life, food and health (Heupel, 2011).
With the growing membership of the UN, there has been a considerable diminishing of the UN’s power. While the organization had particularly been powerful during its early days, there has been significant watering down of its powers, especially of the General Assembly and a more powerful Security Council, especially the five permanent members.
Membership to some of the UN agencies such as UNHCR has also had great impact on the treatment and milestones towards treaties, particularly those concerning human rights. According to Voetan (2014), membership to UNHCR has influenced member states to ratify treaties, as well as keep pledges. Moreover, with membership, member states engage in dialogue, discussion and cooperation, in addition to developing shared values and best practices (Gilbert & Beham, 2012). In essence, growing membership to an organization, while affecting the nature of member state, also influences collaboration that is more intimate and cooperation among member state, most of which create a network for shared value and action towards the achievement of a shared goal.
UNHCR plays an important role in settling and protecting the human rights of refugees and internally displaced people. In its mandate, UNHCR works with different organizations, all of which fit within its larger mandate and organizational structure. The different divisions within the organization ensure that there is fluid running of the organization, even though some of the bureaucracy indeed hampers the smooth functioning of the organization. As part of the UN, UNHCR is responsible for ensuring that it protects human rights. The organization carries out this mandate as stipulated by operational principles. While growing membership has had negative influence on the workings of UN, Membership into the organization (UNHCR), has been influential in increasing cooperation, ratification of treaties among the member state and increased collaboration among the member states.
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ODMS (2016). UNHCR headquarters organizational structure (Geneva, Budapest, Copenhagen). ODMS
Riera, J. & Poirier, M. (2014). ‘Welcoming the stranger’ and UNHCR’s cooperation with faith-based organizations. Forced Migration Review, 48, 64-67
UN (n.d.). About UNHCR.
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Walkup, M. (2007). Policy dysfunction in humanitarian organizations: The role of copying strategies, institutions and organizational culture. Journal of Refugee Studies, 10(1), 37-60
Wigley, B. (2005). The state of UNHRC’s organization culture. Geneva: UNHCR Evaluation and Policy Assessment Unit