Persecution of civil society, migration crisis top concerns of UN human rights chief

14 September 2015 – An “exhausted and angry” High Commissioner for Human Rights today opened the 30th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council with a wide-ranging address in which he singled out countries by name for their role in accelerating human misery and implored decision-makers worldwide to swiftly establish an effective and principled policy to deal with the global migration crisis.

“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,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Addressing the 47-member Council as it began its session in Geneva, he said that after a year on the job he, together with many of his colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “feel exhausted and angry.”

“Exhausted,” the High Commissioner said, “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,” he said.

“And angry, because it seems that little that we say will change this,” he said.

He began his address by pointing to “one utterly shameful example” – Syria.

He lauded countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Germany, and Sweden for showing “commendable humanity and leadership when it comes to hosting refugees and migrants needing protection.” At the same time, he voiced concern for the many millions of people who are forced to leave all that they have, and all they have ever known.

“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,” he said.

Another top concern the UN human rights chief raised was the persecution of civil society.

“Civil society – enabled by the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly – is a valuable partner, not a threat,” he told the Council.

And he singled out countries violating human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, as well as Europe, including world powers.

He cited China’s detention and interrogation of more than 100 lawyers and the stigmatisation of foreign-funded NGOs in Russia, as well as the “shameless political grandstanding” of immigration and persistent discrimination against African-Americans in the United States.

The High Commissioner’s address also included proposed actions to strengthen human rights mechanisms.

Expressing “serious concern” about the situation in Yemen, he said that the “credible allegations of human rights violations by all parties to the conflict should be thoroughly examined by an independent and comprehensive body.”

On Sri Lanka, the UN official said he will release on Wednesday the report of the comprehensive investigation of the serious violations and loss of civilian life in the last months of that country’s long civil war that his office was mandated to conduct, including his recommendations.

And Eritrea, where a Commission of Inquiry’s findings suggest that crimes against humanity may have been committed, he said he hoped that a second mission before the end of the year can find areas of cooperation with the authorities to strengthen protection systems.

The human rights chief also drew attention to the “the specific human rights violations faced by millions of intersex people.”

“Because their bodies don’t comply with typical definitions of male or female, intersex children and adults are frequently subjected to forced sterilization and other unnecessary and irreversible surgery, and suffer discrimination in schools, workplaces and other settings,” he said, adding that his office plans to have an expert meeting to identify steps that States and others can take to end these abuses.

The High Commissioner also appealed to Member States to endorse his office’s regular budget proposal for 2016-2017, amounting to $198.7 million.

Human Rights