Here are excerpts frm the opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein at the 30th session of the Human Rights Council:
Mr President, Excellencies,
It was the way he lay: asleep, terminal, so profoundly sad – as if by lying in supplication before the waves that killed him he was asking for a replay, with a different outcome this time; and his socks and little shoes told us he was ready to try life again. But his cheek on the soft sand whispered otherwise, it made us choke. Shamed and disgraced, the world wept before the body of this little boy.
These speeches, these sessions, these protests by so many of us here for a world more humane and more dignifying of the rights of all humans, all humans – what good are they, when this happens? Not just once, not just to this tiny boy, Aylan Al Kurdi, but to so many across the world: the horror they experience, relayed daily to us through the news media, shreds our hopes for some mercy, some relief.
After a year as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights I, together with many of my colleagues at the Office, feel exhausted and angry.
Exhausted, because the system is barely able to cope given the resources available to it, while human misery accelerates. From poverty of annihilating proportions in many conflict-ridden areas where peace remains elusive, to the denial of the civil and political rights of peoples trapped between the pincers of ruthless extremists and governments fighting them; hatred; bigotry; racism – it all seems too overwhelming.
And angry, because it seems that little that we say will change this. To take one utterly shameful example, despite the horrific human rights violations in Syria that have been investigated, enumerated, discussed, we must continue to deplore the international community's failure to act. Unless we change dramatically in how we think and behave as international actors – Member States, inter-governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations alike – all of us, in the human rights community, will be inconsequential in the face of such mounting violations.
And yet the selflessness of the finest UN staff members – like those from OHCHR whom I met in Bangui two weeks ago, working in the most difficult, dangerous, environments to record and report on human rights violations; and the stunning courage of human rights defenders throughout the world; the loneliness and pain of refugees and other rights-holding migrants; the hundreds of millions who suffer from hunger, discrimination, torture – they prevent us from conceding defeat.
We are mindful, also, that some countries in the Middle East – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey – and in Europe – Germany and Sweden – show commendable humanity and leadership when it comes to hosting refugees and migrants needing protection. And there are millions of ordinary people who in opening their individual homes to refugees and other migrants have also demonstrated remarkable generosity, and a kindness that should be repeated elsewhere. The outpouring of human conscience that surged up following the publication of the photograph of Aylan, gave evidence for a counter-narrative to the mean-spiritedness of some decision-makers who have been whipping up the baser instincts of their populations.
And so I implore decision-makers in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific – as well as Europe – to take swift action to establish effective and principled migration governance. States have a sovereign right to secure their borders, and to determine conditions of entry and stay in their territories. But they also have an obligation to respect international human rights law, refugee law and humanitarian law.
In the Central African Republic, which I visited two weeks ago, the most severe human rights violations have declined significantly since last year. But in several areas armed groups have set themselves up as de facto local authorities, and they continue to operate with almost total impunity. While a few alleged perpetrators have been charged with crimes, for the most part these have been minor figures. The most notorious leaders, with much blood on their hands, remain at liberty. The Government and the UN must do more to support the fight against impunity and to protect people from ongoing threats. It is critical to redress the national justice system and to swiftly set up the Special Criminal Court. Impunity is not the price of political stability; it is a strong driver of conflict.
I am also profoundly concerned about the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of serious human rights violations in Sudan, particularly in Darfur, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan. I urge the international community's support and assistance to the International Criminal Court. The people of Sudan deserve justice and redress no less than those of other countries.
There has also been near-absolute impunity for violations committed in South Sudan. UNMISS has reported further shocking atrocities in the course of an upsurge in fighting that began in April. I welcome the recent peace agreement and trust that there will be rigorous implementation of its provisions on transitional justice and accountability – among them the proposed hybrid court to try serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
I remain deeply troubled by allegations of human rights violations in Somalia, by all parties. Violations of freedom of expression, forced evictions of displaced people in Mogadishu, and numerous reported cases of sexual violence also remain major concerns. It is vital to strengthen rule of law institutions to fight against impunity for human rights violations. I urge the Federal Government of Somalia to put human rights at the centre of the political and stabilization agenda, as a pre-condition for real peace.
In Mali, I regret to note that the people's hope for peace following signature of the Peace and Reconciliation Accord has been tarnished by violation of the ceasefire, and related human rights violations. Further efforts are needed to compel all parties to comply with the Accord, and to ensure protection of the human rights of all Malians.
I continue to be concerned about the situation in Eritrea, where the Commission of Inquiry's findings suggest that crimes against humanity may have been committed. My Office undertook an assessment mission to Eritrea earlier this year, and we hope that a second mission before the end of the year can find areas where we can cooperate with the authorities to strengthen national protection systems and implement the recommendations of the human rights mechanisms.
As this Council is aware, there have been some 100 deaths and over 600 arrests in the current crisis in Burundi, with over 180,000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries. The democratic space in Burundi has been largely erased, and the consequences for the nation and the Great Lakes region could be disastrous.
A cadence of anniversaries, beginning a year ago with the end of World War 1 and tolling through the past months, with the liberation of Auschwitz and the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, calls us to revisit the lessons that led to the founding of our institution. Those lessons cannot die with the generation that lived through those wars. They teach us, not only pity and horror for such atrocious suffering and broken lives; not only admiration for extraordinary individual courage and resilience; but wisdom, the difficult lessons of statesmanship.
In recent months, I have also given deep thought to the acts of genocide in Rwanda and Srebrenica. I have been privileged to share a conversation with three elderly South Korean victims of wartime sexual slavery, who deserve the dignity of real acknowledgment of what they were forced to endure. And like so many, I have been moved to profound sorrow by the plight of the little boy on the beach, who represents in his life and death the injustices suffered by so many others.
Our lives are connected to one another. Actions and decisions in one country affect many other States; they shake the lives of many people, no less important and no less human than you and I. When the fundamental principles of human rights are not protected, the centre of our institution no longer holds. It is they that promote development that is sustainable; peace that is secure; and lives of dignity.
Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein is the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, having taken up this post in September 2014.
- READ the rest of this powerful speech