Opening Statement of the President of the Executive Board H.E. Mr. Sven Jürgenson Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations, 1 February 2016
Good morning Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen. I welcome all of you to the 2016 First Regular Session of the UNICEF Executive Board. Special acknowledgement goes to those who travelled long distances to attend the meeting.
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to deliver this opening statement in my new capacity as President of the UNICEF Executive Board. I assure you that we will be giving UNICEF much-deserved praise and thanks during 2016 as the organization celebrates its seventieth anniversary.
It is a particular honour to be able to work alongside the Executive Director, Mr. Anthony Lake, a tireless champion of children and a passionate advocate for equity, and his highly capable deputies: Ms. Yoka Brandt, Ms. Fatoumata Ndiaye, Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta and Mr. Omar Abdi. Our appreciation goes also to the entire UNICEF staff for their work, often in extremely difficult conditions. They have unflaggingly promoted the cause of equity for all children, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.
Thanks to the hard work of UNICEF, its Executive Board members, as well as the Group of Friends for Children and Sustainable Development Goals and other leaders children are at the core of the SDGs. And they are recognized not just as beneficiaries, but as actors and drivers of change.
Much important advocacy and negotiation work on behalf of children was accomplished by my predecessor, Her Excellency Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, and the previous members of the Bureau and Executive Board, who admirably worked in a spirit of cooperation to guide UNICEF’s work. The key decisions they adopted in 2015 will help to steer the course of UNICEF for many years to come. I would like to thank my predecessors for their excellent stewardship.
This brings me to extending a warm welcome to our new Bureau members, who represent Antigua and Barbuda, Japan, Libya and Nepal; the Permanent Representative of Libya to the United Nations has just been elected today on an exceptional basis. I would also like to welcome the new members of the Executive Board, who joined us in January.
I extend our appreciation to Nicolas Pron, Gilles Fagninou and their staff in the Office of the Secretary of the Executive Board, as well as to the interpreters, the UN conference officers and all others who work hard behind the scenes to make each Board session a success.
I would also like to recognize and thank the UNICEF National Committees for your invaluable work on behalf of children.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We begin the new year with great optimism as we embark on the implementation of the groundbreaking 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the related goals and targets. We have good reason for this optimism: the well-being and rights of the child are well reflected in the new goals. We have a clear road map that includes nations of every size and income level. We have renewed political will and a determination to adequately finance results. And we have the valuable knowledge and experience gained from working towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, which were groundbreaking in their own right.
The vision of the 2030 Agenda and the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals are being incorporated into every aspect of UNICEF’s work. We hope to see this clearly in the midterm review of the UNICEF Strategic Plan, 2014-2017, the report on which will be shared with the Executive Board at its 2016 Annual Session. It is equally apparent in the ongoing preparations for the next Strategic Plan, 2018-2021.
To fully implement the 2030 Agenda, there is a need to better integrate the human rights, development, humanitarian and peace and security pillars of the system. We need the UN development system to be well-coordinated, effective and fit for purpose for the Sustainable Development Goals. The 2016 quadrennial comprehensive policy review provides an opportunity for Member States to outline a renewed strategic framework for the role of the UN development system in supporting their implementation.
In addition to finalizing and adopting the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, we achieved other milestones in 2015, upon which we must build in 2016. These include, in particular, the positive outcomes of the Financing for Development and Climate Change conferences and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. These events will be followed in 2016 by the very pertinent Habitat III Conference and preparations for the next quadrennial comprehensive policy review, among other initiatives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Shadowing our optimism, however, are the very real and severe challenges that we face. These include, among others, complex emergencies, an escalating number and intensity of armed conflicts and an unprecedented number of protracted crises; the increasing occurrence of natural disasters, many of them linked to climate change; and the pervasive and growing threat of terrorism. The state of world´s children is far from perfect.
These issues have, in turn, fueled a refugee crisis that is more extreme than ever. According to UN statistics for 2014, more than 42,000 people worldwide flee their homes every day, half of them children. Now, at the beginning of 2016, about 60 million people are displaced around the world, half of them children. Given the staggering increases from year to year in the numbers of people who are refugees, internally displaced or asylum seekers, the already-unmanageable movement of people is expected to increase radically — with tragic consequences.
These challenges and others, which can set back development by decades, have one characteristic in common: devastating effects on children. A girl or boy affected by these scourges risks experiencing the loss of home and family, deteriorating health and nutrition and years of missed education. For example, according to UNICEF, some 24 million children in conflict areas are currently not in school. Children caught in crises also experience extreme rights violations, violence, including sexual violence, trafficking, abuse and exploitation. A less tangible but equally real threat for these children is the loss of belief in themselves and their societies and of hope for future.
This is where UNICEF, one of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations, provides an inestimable service by promoting and protecting the rights of children. UNICEF’s many staff members, who work in dangerous situations on behalf of such children, deserve our greatest applause. In this regard, the update on UNICEF humanitarian action to be given at this session is most welcome.
One reason that the organization’s humanitarian action is so effective is that UNICEF and its partners work with children, their families and their communities before, during and after crises, and rightfully aim to erase the demarcation between “regular” and “emergency” programming. This is a must in a world that is increasingly affected by conflict.
The organization has also been active in preparations for the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, in which it is sure to play a major role. Accountability with regard to the affected people, especially youth and children, needs to be systematically highlighted and integrated with the outcomes of the Summit. We need to ensure strengthened support for education in emergencies and protracted crises, and also support for protection. And as mentioned earlier, the emphasis is on more strategic, longer-term resilience and complementarity between humanitarian and development work.
It is unfortunate to note that UNICEF’s increasing work in humanitarian settings is taking a toll on the organization’s resources. Yet, inexplicably, despite this toll and the desperate plight of millions of children, many humanitarian appeals made by UNICEF and its partners remain grossly underfunded. This indifference to suffering should provoke our moral outrage. It is urgent that we muster the will and resources to support this vital humanitarian work.
Other major topics to be covered in this First Regular Session pertain to UNICEF’s resources, including the resource mobilization strategy, the Private Fundraising and Partnerships 2016 workplan and proposed budget, and the UNICEF financial report and audited statements for 2014, accompanied by the Report of the Board of Auditors.
The Executive Board will also review the plan for global thematic evaluations, including a review and update for 2016-2017. An important evaluation on increasing access and equity in early childhood education in the CEE/CIS region will be presented, along with a management response.
Some 30 country programme documents will be considered by the Executive Board in 2016, seven of them at this session.
What is interesting to see in all these documents are the steps that UNICEF and its partners are already taking to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on the equity approach. These steps include such innovative measures as using SMS technology to obtain health data from communities in hard-to-reach areas and Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification which helps humanitarian workers collect, sort and share information about unaccompanied and separated children in emergency situations.
One of the obligations that we have towards our children is to ensure that their education adequately prepares them to be competitive in labour markets. This is no easy task in this era of digital revolution, with new technologies that can have a disruptive effect on the future of labour, as noted by the World Bank in its recently published World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. As we all know, the Internet and digital technologies can unlock enormous potential for positive change, but not without complementary reforms and clear policy guidance.
Indeed, innovation is the hallmark of all of UNICEF’s work to improve the lives of millions of children, especially the most disadvantaged and marginalized.
In 2016, we can make important contributions to furthering this progress – not only as members of the Executive Board, but also as leaders with influence in international forums and initiatives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is the first time that Estonia is presiding over the UNICEF Executive Board, but we have been members of the Board since 2011. We have been committed to supporting UNICEF in its efforts to fulfill its mandate based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF was one of the first international organizations that Estonia supported when we began our development cooperation activities in 1998. Since then, the Estonian Government has gradually increased its contributions, including core contributions and humanitarian aid. Our priorities are education, including in emergencies, child and maternal health, parental support and child friendly justice, child protection, gender equality and violence against women and girls in emergencies. We strongly support UNICEF´s focus on equity. We believe that UNICEF´s mandate remains global and relevant to all countries. Estonia has recently adopted new child protection act which puts emphasis on children´s involvement in decision making at all levels and expressly forbids any violence, including corporal punishment against children.
I look forward to working with all of you in a spirit of collaboration. In my capacity as the President of this Executive Board, I shall do my utmost to chair the Board in a spirit of openness and constructive dialogue to serve our number-one clients: the children of the world.