TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jan18/02)
3 January 2018
Third World Network

United Nations: Plays down impact of Zeid not seeking second term
Published in SUNS #8603 dated 26 December 2017

Geneva, 22 Dec (Chakravarthi Raghavan*) - The United Nations tried Friday (22 December) to play down the wide-spread media impact over the last two days of the decision of Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, not to seek a second term, when his current term expires in September 2018.

Mr. Zeid conveyed his decision in an email to the staff of the Office of Human Rights on Wednesday (20 Dec), and its contents became widely available to the media.

In the message, Mr. Zeid had said: "After reflection, I have decided not to seek a second four-year term. To do so, in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice - which is your voice."

The message, hit headlines in the world's media, with many linking it to US Trump administration's disregard for human rights and announced decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy.

In an attempt to play down the impact it has had, the spokesperson for the Office of the Human Rights, said Friday that a Rights Commissioner having a second term was an exception, and not unusual, and that only one of the six High Commissioners, Ms. Navi Pillay, had had a second term, and that too for 2 years.

Speaking at the regular Friday media briefing at the UN Offices in Geneva, the spokesperson for the Office of Human Rights, Rupert Colville made a statement "clarifying the position", and said the media reports had "over-dramatised".

He said: I would just like to clarify the situation around the High Commissioner's decision not to seek a second four-year mandate.

"While he - and many of us, his colleagues who work in the UN Human Rights Office - appreciate the many extremely nice compliments that have been said about him and the way he has stood up so strongly for human rights, we are also concerned that this decision is also being a little over-dramatized.

"One article about his decision was entitled "2017.The year even the U.N. human rights commissioner gave up on human rights." While we can understand that the headline writer was having some fun here, it is actually a very misleading title indeed. It is of course absolutely not the case that the High Commissioner is giving up on human rights. Contrary to a lot of reporting on this, he is not "standing down" or resigning. Far from it. He has a four-year mandate and will carry it out at full steam, without fear or favour, until the very last day which is 31 August - more than eight months away.

There is nothing unusual at all in a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights only serving one term. In fact, only one of the six High Commissioners so far has served a second term - and that was the partial one (two years) granted to Navi Pillay. So serving one term is normal, serving more than that is unusual."

[* Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Editor Emeritus of the SUNS.]