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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder9. External Relations
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentRelations with Government and Diplomatic Corps
View the documentRelations with the Media
View the documentFunding and Donor Relations
View the documentFormal Written Communications
View the documentAnnexes

Formal Written Communications

64. When establishing a new UNHCR presence in a country, there is likely to be a need for a number of formal written communications to government or local authorities. The purpose of this section is to give brief guidance on the preparation of formal letters and "notes verbales" (formal notes written in the third person - see sample in Annex 2).

65. Formal letters are used for communications to ministers, ambassadors and senior officials (for example, the Director-General of a government department) on important matters.

66. Note the following points for written correspondence with ambassadors, ministers and other dignitaries:

i. The proper opening salutation is: "Sir" or "Madam", with "His/Her Excellency" used, if appropriate, only in the address. However, it may be local practice to begin and end with "Your Excellency". When in doubt check with UNDP or use "Sir". His/Her Excellency precedes all other titles and ranks (e.g. Her Excellency Dr. X Y; His Excellency General A B, Minister of the Interior);

ii. The expression "I have the honour ..." is usually used only in the opening sentence;

iii. "You" can normally be used in the text. However, in a long text it may be courteous from time to time to interject the more formal address (e.g. "I should be grateful if you, Sir, [or Your Excellency] would confirm that this is also the understanding of your Government");

iv. Formal letters end with "Accept, Sir/Madam/Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration".

67. A note verbale is a formal note written in the third person. Notes verbales may be addressed to a Minister for Foreign Affairs or a Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an ambassador or an embassy. Notes verbales are always used in replying to an incoming note verbale. It is written from person to person (e.g. Representative to Minister) or office to office (e.g. Branch Office to Ministry). The following points should be noted:

i. Typical uses of notes verbales include the exchange of information between UNHCR and governments, embassies or permanent missions. The note verbale is not normally used to communicate with other United Nations agencies and is never used to address NGOs or the public. The note begins either, "The Special Envoy/Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in (country) presents his/her compliments to ... and has the honour to ..." or "the Branch Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in (country) presents its compliments to ... and has the honour to ...";

ii. Titles must be given in full, at least in the opening and closing paragraphs. Be sure to use the full correct designation of the country (Kingdom of ..., Republic of ..., Democratic Republic of..., etc.)2;

iii. The complimentary closing of a note verbale is always the same: "The (Representative/Special Envoy) of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in (country) avails him/herself of this opportunity to express (renew) to ... the assurances of his/her highest consideration", or, as appropriate, "The Branch Office ..." etc.;

iv. The note should bear no signature. The Office stamp should be placed over the typewritten date and the officer responsible for its dispatch should sign his/her initials within the stamp. The Representative or Special Envoy and an alternate may be required to register their initials or even signatures with the protocol department of the foreign ministry;

v. The place and date should appear on the bottom right-hand side of the last page. The address does not appear on a note verbale;

vi. The text of the note verbale should be single spaced with double spacing between paragraphs.

68. Both formal letters and notes verbales may bear file references, as brief as possible, on the top left of the first page.

69. Notes verbales are always answered by notes verbales, and formal letters by formal letters. Apart from the restrictions on the use of notes verbales given above, there are no completely clear-cut rules about which to employ when UNHCR is initiating the communication. In general terms, the note verbale conveys brief information and is the normal form for routine exchanges with the protocol department, for example, when seeking customs clearance for relief supplies or advising of the arrival of international staff. References to important meetings with senior officials and major issues, particularly those already discussed, are better treated in a formal letter. A formal letter may also reach the action officer more quickly than a note.

70. If it is necessary to set out UNHCR's position on a specific subject (policy, action taken, intentions, etc.), this may be done in the form of an aide-mire written in the third person. An aide-mire has no addressee and is simply headed Aide-Mire, with the title below. A similar purpose is served by a "Note by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees", a minor difference being that this description goes below the title. An aide-mire would normally be used to convey information to a government ministry or department, an embassy or the diplomatic corps. For a less formal or wider distribution, the "Note by ..." form may be appropriate.

71. All four types of communication should be presented on UNHCR letterhead stationery.

2 The following document is a useful guide: Terminology, Country Names, United Nations Bulletin No. 347 (STICSI SER.F/347/Rev. 1).