Tuesday, January 16, 2018 | ePaper

Facing human rights violators

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Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein :
Fifty years ago, this was the day I first heard the sound of war. I was three and a half years old and, while fragmentary, I can still remember military men milling around our home in Amman, an armoured car stationed nearby and later, planes that flew overhead.
It was a war that shaped my life, and forged my later desire to understand the depths of Palestinian suffering but not only that, Jewish suffering too - the latter spanning over two millennia, and which culminated in that colossal crime, the Holocaust.
I grew up not far from the massive Palestinian refugee camp in al-Baqa'a. I worked across the street from the al-Wihdat refugee camp. In the past thirty years, I have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau, visited Dachau, seen Buchenwald. I have studied in depth the trials at Nuremburg and elsewhere, the long and painful history of anti-Semitism in Europe, Russia and later, Arab countries - which remains still present in far too many places around the world.
Some will respond, mechanically almost, that the experiences of the two peoples are not equivalent, how could I mention them in one breath? Indeed, I agree - the Holocaust was so monstrous and so mathematically planned and executed it has no parallel, no modern equal.
Yet it is also undeniable that today, the Palestinian people mark a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force. An occupation which has denied the Palestinians many of their most fundamental freedoms, and has often been brutal in the way it has been realized; an occupation whose violations of international law have been systematic, and have been condemned time and again by virtually all States. The Palestinians deserve freedom, as all peoples do. They deserve to bring up their children safe in their homes, on their land, exercising their rights in their State, free from this long and bitter occupation.
The Israelis also deserve freedom - a different sort of freedom, for they have long had their State, but they too have suffered grievously. The Israeli people have long endured unlawful attacks against their own civilian population - attacks which are often vicious, in clear violation of international humanitarian law, and also worthy of condemnation. Israelis too need to be free from this violence, from any existential threat posed to them. The sine qua non for peace - the end of the occupation - must now be brought about, and soon. Maintain the occupation, and for both peoples there will only be a prolongation of immense pain, the endless flow of 'azzas and shivas, the weeping by loved ones for loved ones, the prayers, the curses, the hatreds and vengeance, the impossibility of a secure life for all. This can be ended.
The brutality of Daesh and other terrorist groups seemingly knows no bounds. Yesterday, my staff reported to me that bodies of murdered Iraqi men, women and children are still lying on the streets of the al-Shira neighbourhood of western Mosul, after at least 163 people were shot and killed by Daesh on 1 June to prevent them from fleeing. My staff have also received reports of missing persons from this neighbourhood.
I again condemn in the strongest of terms the cowardly and sickening attacks perpetrated against innocent people by callous terrorists operating in many parts of the world. Terrorism worldwide must be eradicated by government action - but smart action. Counter-terrorism must be prosecuted intelligently: that is, while preserving the human rights of all.
Please remember this: for every citizen wrongfully detained under a vague anti-terrorism law, and humiliated, abused, or tortured, it is not simply one individual who then nurses a grievance against the authorities, but most of their family too. Send one innocent person to prison, and you may deliver six or seven family members into the hands of those who oppose the government, with a few who may even go further than that.
The cost of a wrongful detention dramatically outweighs whatever benefit it is perceived to accrue. To counter violent extremism, we must stand firm and insist on its opposite: peaceful inclusion.
Two years ago, I touched on a subject which I wish to turn to once again this morning. I am told repeatedly we should not be "naming and shaming" States. But it is not the naming that shames. The shame comes from the actions themselves, the conduct or violations at issue.
The denial of the right to life shames; killing or murder, sometimes on a massive scale, produces shame stunningly, in seemingly inexhaustible supply. The denial of the right to development produces shame. The denial of human dignity, shames. Torture shames. Arbitrary arrests shame. Rape shames. My Office and I hold up a mirror before those whose shame has already been self-inflicted.
But what if there is no reaction to the suffering of so many people? I am concerned about the brazen absence of shame being paraded by a growing number of politicians world-wide.
When thug-like leaders ride to power, democratically or otherwise, and openly defy, not only their own laws and constitutions, but also their obligations under international law, where is their shame? Do they not feel disgusted with themselves when they incite or condone acts of violence and bigotry? When they remark that every soldier should be limited to three rapes of village women each, have they no conscience?
Promising bounties for killing people - people not convicted of crime, or charged with crime, but merely suspected, or imagined, criminals. Seeking to withdraw from laws to combat violence against women and domestic battery, claiming they represent a so-called "gender ideology". Jailing principled judges and advocates, journalists, human rights defenders, university professors and teachers, and closing universities. Trading in malice, cruelty, insults and lies. What of their shame?
The universal rights to freedom, equality and dignity have been held to be true across cultures and civilisations because of their intrinsic value, and because they make it possible to keep the peace. They are not frivolous add-ons; they are absolutely critical. Trash these, openly and defiantly, and the boundaries separating us from horrific violence dissolve. Only catastrophes burst forth at that point. How can they be so foolish?
I will now devote the remainder of this speech to the issue of access, including non-cooperation and selective cooperation with human rights mechanisms and my Office. In September I will again address the frightful human rights violations in the world's most serious conflict situations as well as in other crises. Among the most striking features of this Human Rights Council is the Universal Periodic Review, which last month opened its third cycle. Every State in the world has twice submitted its performance and its intentions to the review's often detailed scrutiny - and each State has committed to improving its record on a wide range of key points.
Has there been real improvement? As we enter the third round of scrutiny, is the UPR deepening in relevance, precision and impact? Is it merely an elaborate performance of mutual diplomatic courtesies, or is it leading to real and powerful changes to anchor peace and development and improve people's lives?
My Office is determined to do everything in its capacity to ensure full implementation of recommendations from all human rights mechanisms, including, in the third round of the UPR, through suggesting lines of action. We will also continue to engage with UN Country Teams and others to ensure recommendations feed into their work.
Last September I shared with you my alarm about the refusal, by several Member States, to grant access to my Office or the human rights mechanisms. I pledged then that at a coming session of the Council, I would expand this discussion.
In recent months, I have been greatly concerned by a number of disgraceful incidents of personal threats and insults directed against Special Procedures mandate-holders. Three have recently been subjected to smear and hate campaigns, some involving incitement to violence: the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar; the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions, in the context of discussions on the Philippines; and the Special Rapporteur on Iran. This is absolutely unacceptable. As Special Procedures are appointed by this Council, I call on you to consider what actions you may want to take to prevent these sorts of campaigns.
In this context, I must again emphasise my very serious concerns about intimidation and reprisals brought on by State officials against people who engage with the UN on human rights. My own staff, the Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies rely on members of civil society and national human rights institutions, alongside many others, for insight and information.
We count on their advice, their help - and even their pressure. We serve them - as do you, Excellencies. When Government or other officials intimidate, arrest or harm these individuals, they are attacking a fundamental element of the work of this Council and the UN, and it is our responsibility to do all we can to protect them.
Noting that at the Council's next session we will present the Secretary-General's annual report on reprisals, I call on all of you to cooperate with Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour, who is leading action across the UN system on this issue.
Members of this Council, and candidates for future membership, have a particular responsibility to cooperate with the Council's mechanisms. Resolution 60/251, which set up this Council in March 2006, calls on them to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights (and to) fully cooperate with the Council".
Yet, for example, Indonesia has 21 pending requests for visits by the Special Procedures, and has received only two mandate-holders since 2008. Egypt has 11 pending requests for visits, with the most recent mission seven years ago. Nepal, a candidate for membership, has 16 pending requests for visits, with the most recent mission by a thematic mandate holder conducted in 2008.
Venezuela has 10, with its most recent visit by a thematic mandate holder conducted in the last century. The Philippines has accepted three visits in the past five years but 23 other requests are pending. Despite issuing a standing invitation, Council member Nigeria has accumulated 15 requests for visits; one visit by Special Procedures was accepted last year, but the last previous visit was in 2007.
Most astonishingly, despite having been elected to this Council in 2015, Burundi continues to commit some of the most serious human rights violations dealt with by this Council, while the Government has suspended all forms of cooperation with my Office. In September the Council's independent mission was declared persona non grata, and the current Commission of Inquiry has not been able to enter the country.
 (To be continued)

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