Historical archive

Welcoming address at the conference: NORCAP marks 20 years

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Oslo, 28 November 2011

Norwegian expertise in areas such as disaster risk management, the rule of law and parliamentary oversight may be world class. But our advice and assistance can be so much richer when partnered with know-how based on experiences that are unique to a region or to countries with a recent history of change and transition, Foreign Minister Støre said in his speech.

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Ladies and gentlemen, Excellencies,

History teaches us that in times of crisis, people can be very creative. Many good ideas and inventions have been born out of despair. The humanitarian roster, which we today refer to as NORCAP, is one good example. Born out of crisis – but not outdated.

20 years ago, in the aftermath of the first Gulf war, there was a mass exodus of Kurds who were forced to flee from Northern Iraq as a result of attacks by the government of Saddam Hussein. The UNHCR was called on to rescue them – and it had the will to do so - but lacked the manpower.

As the mass departure of Kurds continued over Easter, with more than 1.5 million people fleeing to the Turkish mountains, the UNHCR High Commissioner Ms Ogata happened to be on her first official visit to Copenhagen and presented the challenges then facing the UNHCR.

This was the point of departure for the first humanitarian roster – created in partnership with the Danish and Norwegian Refugee Councils. You will hear more about this story – presented more vividly and with deep insight – from Jan Egeland shortly. 

20 years have passed, and for some of you the story of the roster – this undertaking - is intertwined with your personal history. I salute you all! Your efforts have been tremendous during these years. I want to thank you on behalf of the Norwegian Government. This gratitude also goes to all of you who have been involved with the roster at its headquarters and elsewhere, making it a rapid and efficient emergency standby roster that can support the UN’s efforts in humanitarian crises.

In line with developments in the humanitarian community at large, NORCAP today provides support not only for early emergency response – inspiring as such operations are - but also for disaster risk reduction and preparedness activities, transitions from humanitarian to development assistance and the strengthening of national and local capacities, within states and from one state to another.

NORCAP has also made it an objective to broaden its engagement, moving beyond service provision to becoming a strategic partner for the UN.

In his role as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to East Timor, the late Sergio de Vieira de Mello once complained about the difficulties involved in bringing normality to the newly-independent state. He said: “In the first few months, we had all these people coming from New York who could write diplomatic cables, but nobody who could lay electrical cable.” Mr de Mello was – as we all here know – a troubleshooter, but the same problem confronted him in his many other engagements as well, be it a lack of legal experts, plumbers, drivers or linguists.

The UN has countless highly competent staff members, but moving them quickly to the world’s hot spots is not its greatest strength.

That is why we believe that stand-by capacity is such an important complementary instrument, which provides know-how of how to get things right. This is not a controversial observation – the UN itself has undertaken an in-depth analysis of how it can make use of external stand-by capacity in order to meet the growing demand for a civilian UN presence worldwide, particularly in countries emerging from conflict. Reforming the UN takes time, and currently the UN is debating the issue, internally and with member states.

On behalf of Norway I can only praise the initiative – in the light of what I have said - and say that we too are open to discussing ways and means of strengthening the UN’s civilian capacity. Openness in this context also means readiness to contribute.

Norway does its part and will continue to do so. Our aim is to strengthen the international community’s capacity to assist countries emerging from disaster and conflict.

That said, our goal must always be to deploy the right person to the right place at the right time by the right means.

Let me highlight two main features of how we work to ensure this:

Firstly, we actively seek to reach out and work with countries and regional organisations in Africa and Asia to establish rosters and training centres with a view to developing capacity in the Global South.

Some rosters, like NORCAP, already include members from the South as well as the North. Indeed, NORCAP is one of the few standby rosters to have a substantial proportion of active participants, currently 40% of the roster, from the Global South. In addition, one third of the Norwegians recruited to the roster so far have a minority or immigrant background. They may come from other countries. This is indeed one of NORCAP’s strengths and one reason for its success. The intention is that it should look international in its composition, not only Norwegian.

Norwegian expertise in areas such as disaster risk management, the rule of law and parliamentary oversight may be world class. But our advice and assistance can be so much richer when partnered with know-how based on experiences that are unique to a region or to countries with a recent history of change and transition.

We are therefore eager to build partnerships such as AFDEM and Training for Peace, and to explore opportunities for the kind of triangular cooperation that we have started in South Sudan. In cooperation with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), supported by UNDP and Norway, the Government of South Sudan will place 200 civil servants from IGAD Member States in key functions in South Sudan to fill immediate capacity gaps and to build further administrative capacity over time. We support this.

Secondly, Norway actively seeks to promote women’s inclusion in all aspects of peace and security processes.

This can be seen as a general follow-up and implementation of the Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security. First and foremost because we believe that women should enjoy the same rights and responsibilities and opportunities as men. But also – as studies show – because we know that women’s inclusion leads to more sustainable peace agreements and more effective peace operations.

With women making up 42% of its members, NORCAP can more or less boast gender balance. Recruiting women from the Global South is a specific objective. This makes the roster stronger.

I would like to add a third point, which is the importance of rosters being demand-driven and of demands being based on real and coordinated assessments. We need to achieve this balance.

In order to ensure this, Norway supports the establishment of an online platform for broadcasting civilian needs and available capacities. Such a platform could serve as a resource base for the Secretariat on available civilian capacities as well as providing general information on the needs and demands for civilian capacities in the field. Communication technology is important here – the internet for example – an issue I discussed yesterday in Geneva.

Moreover, such a platform could provide a link between the Secretariat and the UN funds and programmes on civilian capacities, as well as providing a source of information for member states and other partners to tap into and contribute to.

And, fourth, as mentioned, I will add the importance of good partnerships (NGOs, the NRC and others).

I hope today’s conference will generate discussion on many of these important issues, which are quite concrete issues:

How can standby partners become a strategic aid in accelerating UN reform and fostering civilian capacity?

How can they be used to enhance national ownership and strengthen national institutions?

How can standby partners be a tool for fostering women’s participation and promoting gender balance?

In answering these questions, I can only recommend that we strive to emulate the innovative approach and creative thinking that characterised the start-up of the standby mechanism. I wish you a successful conference.

Read more about Norcap