Act with courage and principle: UN human rights commissioner urges nations to not discriminate

By Shreerupa Mitra-Jha

In an impassioned speech to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) the UN human rights commissioner slammed leaders for pandering to “simplistic nationalism” for settling challenges which itself reflects the mind-set of extremists and warned that this may lead to a “colossus of violence and death”.

“Human rights violations are like a signal, the sharp zig-zag lines of a seismograph flashing out warnings of a coming earthquake. Today, those jagged red lines are shuddering faster and higher, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday at the opening session of the 31st session of the HRC.

“These shocks are being generated by poor decisions, unprincipled and often criminal actions, and narrow, short-term, over-simplified, approaches to complex questions,” he added.

He said that the poor decisions are based on "broad-based malice", "irresponsibility" and sometimes "eye-watering stupidity" that crushes the lives of millions of people.

Act with courage and principle: UN human rights commissioner urges nations to not discriminate

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein addresses the 31st session of the Human Rights Council. Reuters

“Instead of taking a reasoned and cooperative approach to settling challenges – including the rise of violent extremism, the growing number of armed conflicts, and the movement of people seeking safety – many leaders are pandering to a simplistic nationalism, which mirrors the simplified and destructive 'us' versus 'them' mind-set of the extremists, and fans a rising wind of prejudice and fear,” he said.

“When leaders express, or ignite, waves of hate speech, as we have seen in recent months – hate speech against migrants, and specific ethnic and religious groups – they are setting off shock-waves, whose impact will lead to violence,” Zeid warned.

The key drafters of the UN charter were “pragmatists” who had experienced the consequences of societies that are “thrown violently into imbalance as it was by the feral nationalisms and ideologies of the extreme left and right”, the High Commissioner said.

The UN human rights chief also urged the 47 member states to “act with courage and with principle, and to take a strong stand regarding the protection of civilians” and to “gather lessons from the great integrative forces of history”.

India is currently a member of the HRC.

Zeid also deplored the clamping down of governments against grassroots activists, journalists and political opponents and said that by doing so “they are dismantling the integrity of their societies and the people's trust and respect for fundamental institutions”.

The President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Mogens Lykketoft, also urged governments not to discriminate against specific groups.

“We must not attack civil society or further restrict their ability to conduct their legitimate activities,” he said.

The current four-week session of the HRC will be the busiest ever since the Council was established exactly 10 years back by the UNGA. The HRC is an inter-governmental body within the UN system made of 47 states responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights across the globe.

The member states are elected on a geographical rotational basis.

The new president of the HRC is the South Korean diplomat , Choi Kyong-lim, who took up his post on 1 January 2016.

The HRC this session will be attended by more than 100 high-level dignitaries and will discuss human rights violations in countries like Syria, North Korea, Burundi, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar. The Council will also have dialogues with UN special rapporteurs for right to privacy, on situation of human rights defenders, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment, on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The Council will have a high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming, that will be attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and on preventing violent extremism.

Apart from that, member states will vote on about 26 important resolutions.

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Updated Date: Feb 29, 2016 18:10:24 IST