Hate is being mainstreamed, said High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in a global update at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council
By Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein — excerpts from an address
Geneva, 13 June 2016
When the Inter-American Commission announces it has to cut its personnel by forty percent – and when States have already withdrawn from it and the Inter-American Court;
When States Parties have threatened to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – and, even more recently, others threaten to leave the United Nations, or the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union;
When those calling for departure have seemingly already fled in their minds from the urge to protect the world from the untold sorrow and miseries which twice swept it, and brought about the creation of many of these very institutions;
When filthy abuse by politicians of the vulnerable is tolerated; when the laws – human rights law, refugee law, international humanitarian law – are increasingly violated, and when hospitals are bombed – but no one is punished;
When human rights, the two words, are so rarely found in the world of finance and business, in its literature, in its lexicon – why? Because it is shameful to mention them?
When working for the collective benefit of all people, everywhere is apparently losing its ardour, and features only in empty proclamations swelling with unjustified self-importance and selfishness –
Then do we really still have an international community? When the threads forming it are being tugged away and the tapestry, our world, is unravelling? Or are there only fragmented communities of competing interests – strategic and commercial – operating behind a screen of feigned allegiance to laws and institutions?
I think of a video clip I saw on the internet only days ago, where the body of a young child, a young girl, with a face that is white with dust, nose bloodied, hair springing with life still – and her body crushed, inert as the rubble – dug out as she was from a bombed building in Syria, so reports said, just days ago.
The poet Hafiz says:
As pallid ghost appears
Speak the epic of thy pain
Please stop this, because this madness can be stopped.
As I speak before this 32nd session of the Human Rights Council, at which all of the 193 Member States of the United Nations are represented, the international community’s familiar customs and procedures are much in evidence.
And yet the workable space in which we function as one community – resolving disputes, coming to consensus – is under attack. The common sets of laws, the institutions – and deeper still, the values – which bind us together are buckling. And suffering most from this onslaught are our fellow human beings – your people – who bear the brunt of the resulting deprivation, misery, injustice, and bloodshed.
I, and many others, seek your support.
Hate is becoming mainstreamed. Walls – which tormented previous generations, and have never yielded any sustainable solution to any problem – are returning. Barriers of suspicion are rising, snaking through and between our societies – and they are killers. Clampdowns on public freedoms, and crackdowns on civil society activists and human rights defenders, are hacking away at the forces which uphold the healthy functioning of societies. Judicial institutions which act as checks on executive power are being dismantled. Towering inequalities are hollowing out the sense that there are common goods.
These trends bleed nations of their innate resilience. They do not make them safe: they make them weaker. Piece by piece, these mutually reinforcing trends are shearing off the protections that maintain respect, enable development, and provide the only fragile basis for world peace. They are attacks on sanity. And they can be reversed.
This is a period of powerful lessons – if we choose to learn from them.
We can build societies in which disputes can be peacefully resolved by impartial and effective institutions, and where people’s right to development and other fundamental rights are respected.
We can shore up the basic building blocks of co-existence and well-being, both within States and between them.
Sound rule of law institutions, which offer the confidence of impartial justice, build confidence and strength. Equality: every individual must be clear in the knowledge that regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, opinions, belief, caste, age or sexual orientation, her equal rights are fully acknowledged. Trust can only accrue if government is transparent and accountable – and when people know they are entitled to contribute to all decisions in which they have a stake, there is greater social unity. When fundamental economic and social goods – such as education, clean water and adequate health-care – are viewed, correctly, as rights, resources are allocated with greater fairness and society as a whole is stronger. The freedoms of expression, association and belief must prevail, together with independent media, in order that people be fully informed and free to contribute ideas and experiences without fear of attack.
These are powerful levers for development and peace. They are investments which pay instant and long-term benefits in maintaining peace, in maximising sustainable development, and in optimizing the well-being of each society and humanity as a whole. In contrast, the damage done by denial of human rights spills across borders and mutilates the destiny of generations to come. Human rights are not costly – they are priceless.
We are 7.4 billion human beings clinging to a small and fragile planet. And there is really only one way to ensure a good and sustainable future: ensure respect, resolve disputes, construct institutions that are sound and fair and share resources and opportunities equitably. ….
The actions of the police, security forces and all other agents of the State must be in line with relevant human rights obligations and minimum standards. When reports suggest violations of human rights, I call on the authorities to conduct investigations to establish the facts, prosecute perpetrators and ensure redress for victims. Economic, social and cultural rights are vital, and their respect must include equitable access to resources, services and opportunities. Refugee law must also be respected, especially the principle of non-refoulement. And all forms of discrimination must be eradicated, to ensure that every member of society can freely make choices and participate in decisions.
On a daily basis, we are witness to horrors of every kind around the world. I extend my condolences and respect to all victims of human rights violations, including the victims of conflict and those who suffer violations of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. I also condemn with the greatest possible force the outrageous attacks by violent extremists on innocent people, chosen at random, or because of their presumed beliefs, or opinions, or – as we saw (In Orlando, where scores of people were killed or injured in a nightclub by a gunman) – their sexual orientation.
Martin Luther King spoke of the deep shame reserved “for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight”. But he also pointed out that we can “re-dedicate ourselves to the long, and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.”
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein became United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2014. A is a veteran multilateral diplomat with experience in international criminal justice, international law, UN peacekeeping, post-conflict peace-building, international development, and counter- nuclear terrorism. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from The Johns Hopkins University and a Doctorate in Philosophy from Cambridge University (Christ’s College).
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