Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun18/12)
19 June 2018
Third World Network
Rights : Attack on multilateralism risks mischief on grander scale
Published in SUNS #8703 dated 19 June 2018
Geneva, 18 Jun (Kanaga Raja) - As the attack on the multilateral system
and its rules, including most especially international human rights
law, intensifies, so too will the risk increase of further mischief
on a grander scale, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, warned on Monday.
Zeid, who late last year announced his decision not to seek a second
four-year term, in his last update to the UN Human Rights Council
in a regular session, said that "the UN's collective voice must
therefore be principled and strong; not weak and whining, obsessed
with endless wrangling over process, the small things, as it is the
Zeid also pointed out that historically, the most destructive force
to imperil the world has been chauvinistic nationalism - when raised
to feral extremes by self-serving, callous leaders, and amplified
by mass ideologies which themselves repress freedom.
"The UN was conceived in order to prevent its rebirth. Chauvinistic
nationalism is the polar opposite of the UN, its very antonym and
enemy," he said.
The Human Rights Council began its thirty-eighth regular session here
on Monday (18 June to 6 July 2018).
In his opening statement on Monday morning, Zeid said he heard recently
a UN official telling others there is really no such thing as universal
human rights, musing that they were picked from a Western imagination.
"I remember thinking to myself that the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights - the most translated document in the world - was
negotiated by the same political leaders who poured universal values
into the Charter, creating the United Nations. Is the UN also then
somehow not universal? Were its values sourced only from a Western
tradition - unrepresentative of the rest of the world?"
"No," said the High Commissioner, adding that a clear rejection
of this comes from a look at the negotiating record itself.
The San Francisco Conference, which established the UN, was a circus
of sound shaped from many tongues; its result was not a solo tune
from a Western instrument.
Had that been the case - had the countries that joined the organization
believed they were being pinned to alien, Western values - why then
did they not stream toward the exits? Why did they not withdraw from
But then why is the Universal Declaration, and the whole body of human
rights law that followed it, the object of so much attack now - not
only from the violent extremists, like the Takfiris, but also from
authoritarian leaders, populists, demagogues, cultural relativists,
some Western academics, and even some UN officials, Zeid asked.
"I have spent most of my career at, and in, the UN. What I have
learned is this: the UN is symptomatic of the wider global picture.
It is only as great or as pathetic as the prevailing state of the
international scene at the time.
"I also have come to understand how weak human memory is. That
to many people history matters only in so far as it can be unsheathed
and flung into political battle: they do not view it as a service
to deeper human understanding."
There is a dangerous remove and superficiality to so many of our discussions,
so much so that the deepest, core issue seems to have been lost on
many, Zeid underlined.
He said is it not the case, for example, that historically, the most
destructive force to imperil the world has been chauvinistic nationalism
- when raised to feral extremes by self-serving, callous leaders,
and amplified by mass ideologies which themselves repress freedom.
The UN was conceived in order to prevent its rebirth. Chauvinistic
nationalism is the polar opposite of the UN, its very antonym and
"So why are we so submissive to its return? Why are we in the
UN so silent? "
According to Zeid, the UN's raison d'etre is the protection of peace,
rights, justice and social progress. Its operating principle is therefore
equally clear: only by pursuing the opposite to nationalism - only
when States all work for each other, for everyone, for all people,
for the human rights of all people - can peace be attainable.
"Why are we not doing this? Those of us in the UN Secretariat,
originating from all the 193 Member States, work collaboratively and
we do not answer to any State."
In contrast, said the High Commissioner, too many governments represented
at the UN will often pull in the opposing direction: feigning a commitment
to the common effort, yet fighting for nothing more than their thinly-thought
interests, taking out as much as they can from the UN, politically,
while not investing in making it a true success.
The more pronounced their sense of self-importance - the more they
glory in nationalism - the more unvarnished is the assault by these
governments on the overall common good: on universal rights, on universal
law and universal institutions, such as this one.
"And as the attack on the multilateral system and its rules,
including most especially international human rights law, intensifies,
so too will the risk increase of further mischief on a grander scale.
The UN's collective voice must therefore be principled and strong;
not weak and whining, obsessed with endless wrangling over process,
the small things, as it is the case today."
"If my Office, of which I am very proud, and I, have gotten one
thing right over the last few years, it is our understanding that
only fearlessness is adequate to our task at this point in time. Not
ducking for cover, or using excuses or resorting to euphemisms, but
a fearlessness approaching that shown by human rights defenders around
the world - for only by speaking out can we begin to combat the growing
menace of chauvinistic nationalism that stalks our future," said
"I appeal to you to do more, to speak louder and work harder
for the common purpose and for universal human rights law, to better
our chances for a global peace," Zeid told the audience at the
SOME SPECIFIC COUNTRY SITUATIONS
The High Commissioner also provided a global update on a number of
human rights concerns.
He pointed out that twice in the course of his mandate, he had reported
on the troubling failure by a number of countries to grant access,
and that he will do so again today.
"These refusals of access constitute a serious affront to our
work, and where there is sustained denial of access, and serious reasons
to believe violations are occurring, we will consider the option of
remote monitoring," he said.
"The Office's mandate to conduct such monitoring is unassailable,
and if the Government concerned fears there may be inaccuracies it
should permit us in to see the situation on the ground."
In Syria, said Zeid, the leadership's contempt and disregard for human
rights was what laid the ground for this conflict, and fuelled it
for the first year at least.
The horrific violations and abuses committed since then - principally
by the government and its allies, but including also the violent extremists
and their supporters - have destroyed much of the country along with
many of its people.
Both his Office and the Council's Commission of Inquiry have been
refused access to all regions.
The Government's recent, selective acceptance of one Rapporteur's
visit, when so many other requests have been outstanding for an extended
period, is in no way an adequate stand-in for compliance with this
Council's resolutions S18-1 and 19/22, which call for full cooperation
with his Office and the establishment of a field presence.
"Our extensive remote monitoring of human rights violations in
Syria will continue," Zeid said.
In Myanmar, Zeid said that there are clear indications of well-organised,
widespread and systematic attacks continuing to target the Rohingyas
in Rakhine State as an ethnic group, amounting possibly to acts of
genocide if so established by a court of law.
In Kachin and northern Shan States, conflict has again escalated since
October last year, and longstanding and widely reported human rights
violations in the country include allegations of extrajudicial killings;
enforced disappearances; torture and inhuman treatment; rape and other
forms of sexual violence; forced labour; recruitment of children into
armed forces; and indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks arising
from conflicts between security forces and armed groups.
Although Myanmar has stated that it will investigate allegations and
prosecute alleged perpetrators, its actions to date have not met minimal
standards of credibility or impartiality.
Due to continuing refusals to permit access, OHCHR, the country Special
Rapporteur and the Fact-Finding Mission have conducted remote monitoring.
"In the context of the MOU that the Government of Myanmar has
established with UNDP and UNHCR for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees
from Bangladesh, I reiterate that no repatriation should occur in
the absence of sustained human rights monitoring on the ground, in
the areas concerned," said Zeid.
He also said given the gravity and scope of the human rights violations
in Venezuela, and continuing denial of access to the Office, "we
will continue remote monitoring and reporting; our second report will
be published in the coming days - and we firmly believe the Council
needs to establish a Commission of Inquiry."
Since last June the Government has issued three invitations to the
Special Procedures, the first since 1996.
However, the authorities have ignored a long list of requests by others
whose mandates are particularly relevant to the current human rights
crisis in the country.
The High Commissioner further reported that despite Burundi's agreement
to cooperate with the Team of Experts mandated by the Council last
year, the Team was expelled from the country last month and has not
been able to return.
Access is also denied to the International Commission of Inquiry set
up in 2016, and the authorities have refused to finalize discussions
on the renewal of the MOU with his Office.
Meanwhile, the human rights situation continues to deteriorate throughout
The Government's continuing restrictions on civic space, and its decision
to revise the Constitution through a referendum last month, have generated
a host of human rights concerns - including at least 44 alleged cases
of arbitrary arrest and detention - and may further deepen grievances.
Zeid strongly encouraged the Government to re-establish engagement
with all international human rights bodies.
In Nicaragua, anti-government protests over the past two months have
led to the killing of at least 178 people, almost entirely at the
hand of the police forces and by armed pro-government groups, including
allegedly the use of snipers, with at least 1,500 wounded. This is
in addition to reported abductions and disappearances.
The High Commissioner deplored the violence, including the horrific
arson attack two days ago. The gravity of these developments may well
merit an international commission of inquiry, he said.
He expects the commitments made at the resumption of the National
Dialogue on 15 June to be upheld, including the cessation of all forms
of violence and threats thereof, and the commitment to extend an urgent
invitation to OHCHR to visit the country, as has repeatedly been requested.
This invitation should be sent without delay.
Zeid reported that in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK),
remote monitoring by his Office has found little change in the country's
longstanding, grave and systematic violations of human rights.
The people of the DPRK risk their lives and their dignity for the
exercise of their fundamental human rights, including seeking to leave
the country and communicating with individuals abroad.
"While I regret the persistent lack of cooperation with the country
mandate-holder, the DPRK's recent engagement with the human rights
mechanisms, through one Special Rapporteur visit and treaty body reviews,
Zeid called on the authorities to step up that engagement significantly,
an d without selectivity, including cooperation with the country mandate.
"The experience of my Office has repeatedly demonstrated that
making human rights part of peace talks contributes to meaningful
and sustainable peace in the long-term. Our door remains open for
greater engagement and cooperation."
The High Commissioner pointed out that Israel continues to deny access
to the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the Special Rapporteur on
the Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied
This has been the case for three successive holders of the mandate.
Access has also been denied to all of the Council's previous Commissions
of Inquiry, including on Gaza in 2014.
"I believe the Council's advocacy of impartial monitoring and
expert recommendations is entirely justified by the gravity of the
situation, and I urge Israel to provide access to all human rights
mechanisms - including the investigative body mandated last month
- to enable impartial monitoring and advance accountability and justice."
Regarding the situation in Turkey, an invitation for the High Commissioner
to visit Ankara is not a substitute for access for the Office to directly
and objectively assess the situation in the South-East, where the
authorities have consistently failed to conduct credible criminal
investigations into the civilian deaths which occurred during security
operations in 2015 and 2016.
In the absence of adequate access, the Office will continue remote
monitoring of the situation.
Zeid noted that Turkey received visits relating to torture, freedom
of expression and enforced disappearances in 2016, and he encouraged
the government to allow further visits in the near future.
Unconditional access to Bahrain continues to be refused to his Office
and the Special Procedures, amid continued crackdowns on civil society
and additional legislation which further restricts the people's fundamental
"I encourage the Kingdom to reverse these profoundly damaging
trends and to facilitate effective engagement with the international
human rights mechanisms. My Office stands ready to provide technical
and legal expertise."
In South Sudan, Zeid acknowledged and welcomed the Government's cooperation
with the Council's Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
However, in violation of the Status of Forces Agreement, human rights
officers working with UNMISS have been regularly denied access to
locations where serious human rights violations and abuses are allegedly
committed, impeding UNMISS's mandated task of monitoring the human
These include facilities run by the National Security Service, where
hundreds of people are believed to be arbitrarily detained in conditions
that could amount to torture.
"I am deeply concerned about the intensification of indiscriminate
attacks against civilians, particularly a pattern of rapes and killings
perpetrated by Government forces and their proxies in Unity State
since April 2018," said Zeid.
Human rights officers have documented the rape of children as young
as four years old, and numerous cases of women, elderly people and
others being hanged or burned alive in what appears to be a deliberate
Zeid also welcomed Security Council resolution 2414 (2018) on Western
Sahara, which strongly encourages enhancing cooperation with OHCHR.
"I reiterate the readiness of my Office to undertake as soon
as possible a follow-up technical mission to Western Sahara."
The High Commissioner also pointed out that almost 40 States have
received no visit by a Special Rapporteur over the past five years,
Among them, 15 States have more than five pending visits: Bahrain,
Belarus, Bolivia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt,
Ethiopia, Iran, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda,
Yemen and Zimbabwe.
"I take this opportunity to emphasise that attempts by Governments
to selectively cherry-pick which mandates they will invite to their
country undermine the integrity of the entire international human
rights architecture, their own commitments to the equality and dignity
of all their people, and the authority of this Council," said
the High Commissioner.
There is also no exception to the requirement of cooperation for States
in disagreement with the majority of Council members: indeed such
an approach would eviscerate the meaning of the Council's decisions.
"I deplore the openly voiced refusal of a number of States to
cooperate with this Council's Independent Expert on sexual orientation
and gender identity."
Notably, said Zeid, the Russian Federation has formally refused to
respond to any communications from the mandate-holder, including joint
submissions without her experts mandated by the Council, despite serious
allegations of violence, discrimination and exclusion of members of
the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, especially in
In many States, LGBTI people face severe and often official discrimination;
and almost everywhere, they are inadequately protected from violence
"Protecting all human beings, including the LGBTI community,
is not "outside" the international legal framework; ending
discrimination and violence for everyone, everywhere, is absolutely
central to our principles and work," said Zeid.
SOME POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS
At the same time, the High Commissioner said that he is pleased to
note a number of positive developments with respect to access for
the Special Procedures.
These include an increased response rate to communications, now at
68 per cent (an increase of 13 per cent over 2016); and Afghanistan's
issuance of a standing invitation to all mandate-holders, taking the
number of States having done so to 118 UN Member States and one non-member
He noted and commended the following States which have hosted at least
five visits by thematic mandates in the last five years: Argentina,
Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Chile, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Honduras,
Italy, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia,
Ukraine, the UK and the US.
Regarding engagement with the Treaty Bodies, Zeid welcomed long-outstanding
reports to the Committees by Bangladesh, Cabo Verde, Central African
Republic, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Tonga and Zambia.
Zeid further said that people do not lose their human rights by virtue
of crossing a border without a visa.
"I deplore the adoption by many countries of policies intended
to make themselves as inhospitable as possible by increasing the suffering
of many already vulnerable people. In recent weeks, I have become
increasingly alarmed by two issues regarding access for civil society
organisations to migrants."
In Hungary, Zeid said he is deeply concerned about a bill presented
to Parliament last month which, if adopted, would effectively criminalize
human rights monitoring at borders and within border zones, as well
as criminalizing the provision to migrants of information, legal aid
The bill would also eliminate or impede judicial review in many cases.
It i s essential that independent monitoring bodies - including not
only all international human rights bodies, but also national human
rights institutions and civil society - be able to monitor the human
rights situation of migrants without fear or obstruction.
These prohibitions, and related measures adopted by the Government
of Hungary in recent months, stigmatize and harm migrants in vulnerable
situations and those who seek asylum, as well as punishing the admirable
work of human rights defenders who seek to help them.
In the United States, Zeid said that he is deeply concerned by recently
adopted policies which punish children for their parents' actions.
In the past six weeks, nearly two thousand children have been forcibly
separated from their parents.
The American Association of Pediatrics has called this cruel practice
"government-sanctioned child abuse" which may cause "irreparable
harm," with "lifelong consequences".
The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting
such abuse on children is unconscionable, said the High Commissioner.
"I call on the United States to immediately end the practice
of forcible separation of these children, and I encourage the Government
to at last ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in order
to ensure that the fundamental rights of all children, whatever their
administrative status, will be at the centre of all domestic laws
"We request access so we can better work to help bring States'
laws and practices in line with the commitments which they themselves
have made. Every decision to engage more productively with the human
rights system is a decision to create openings towards a more harmonious
society - one where there is greater justice, more sustainable peace
and better development," said Zeid.
"I am heartened by the new areas where access has been achieved
over the past year. It is not easy to highlight conflicts which have
been averted, violations which have been warded off, and spiralling
violence that has been interrupted and diminished.
"But every step towards greater implementation of the human rights
agenda is an act of prevention, which gathers and strengthens the
bonds between communities and reinforces inclusive development and
Zeid said he is convinced that the human rights ideal has been the
most constructive movement of ideas in our era - and among the most
Over the past 70 years, a sustained peace has been achieved in and
between many societies. Conflicts have been resolved, with respect
and through law; a vastly increased number of people have been able
to meaningfully express their views, and access education, healthcare
and opportunities for development, without discrimination.
Some may take these achievements for granted. But they are the enactment
of policies - policies and laws that uphold the universal principles
of human dignity and equality.
And they are not the norm. Every society's history is bloody with
conflict and deprivation: we need only look back a little way to grasp
the dangers, which our work averts.
When leaders undermine human rights, and human rights law, this is
in no way an act of patriotism. They are eroding the structures which
can ensure the safety of their people - pitching their societies backwards
into violence, destruction, exploitation and disaster.
They are recreating the rule of brute force and exploitation - within
countries and between them. True patriotism consists in viewing every
State, and humanity as a whole, as a community of mutual responsibility,
with shared needs and goals . True patriotism consists of the work
of creating tolerant communities, which can live in peace.
"I depart an Office which is strong, absolutely committed to
its gargantuan task, and which, in the face of heavy headwinds, has
made progress. These new areas of access are a testament to the credibility
of our operations and the justice of our cause," said Zeid.
"I remain convinced that the monitoring and reporting we have
achieved; our capacity-building for civil society and States; and
our clear, steady and impartial advocacy have been significant contributors
to governance that is more inclusive and respectful of the rights
of the people; societies which are more peaceful; and development
that is broader, deeper and of more benefit to all," he added.