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Human Rights Council 36th session - Oral Update by UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

Darker and more dangerous: High Commissioner updates the Human Rights Council on human rights issues in 40 countries

Human Rights Council 36th session - Opening Statement by Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

11 September 2017

Distinguished President of the Council, 
Colleagues, Friends,

As I enter the final year of my current mandate – a year which I will discharge with vigour and determination – I wish to begin with a few short reflections drawn from the past three years.

First, however, I want to recall all those who were murdered in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001. Like many who were living in New York, I will forever remember that huge gaping hole in the side of the building, the billowing smoke, the heroism of the fire-fighters and police, the collapsing towers, the murder of so many innocent people, the horror of it all. But also I remember the piercing clarity of the sky we all awoke to that day. So blue and clear, it nudged our spirits upward as we headed to work. And then the terrorists struck.

In the opening chapters of this century, perhaps the breathtaking acceleration of technological change is our blue sky. Today, perhaps all of us wonder whether a trigger pulled, a steering wheel turned, or a pin tugged by the fingers of some violent extremist will strike down our future prematurely. But the actions of violent extremists cannot totally obliterate our world. Only governments can do that – and this is the greater tragedy of today. Left on their current course, it will be governments who will break humanity. Terrorists may attack us, but the intellectual authors of those crimes will then often sit back and watch as governments peel away at human rights protections; watch, as our societies gradually unravel, with many setting course toward authoritarianism and oppression – staging for us, not a century of achievement and pride, but a century that is small, bitter and deprived, for the vast majority of humans.

The second of my reflections focuses on States' consistency – or lack of consistency – when it comes to human rights commitments: the so-called internal-external gap. Does it not disturb governments to defend the rights of humans elsewhere – in order to project themselves as global players – while at home they openly deny the rights of their own people? Do they not recognize the hypocrisy?

Third, does it not occur to the many Governments who engage in intimidation and bullying, and commit reprisals against human rights defenders and NGOs which work with the UN human rights mechanisms – do they not realise that this only confirms to us, and to the world, how much oppression and injustice they exercise in their own countries? This is not a shared future; it is the theft of their peoples' inalienable rights.

Fourth, does it not disturb governments when they seize only on some of the countries cited in my oral update and reports, ignoring others? Frequently, a particular critical emergency will demand the focused attention of this Council – and in those circumstances, when swift action is taken, the Council ought to be commended for it. But when this Council does not act with the urgency and magnitude commensurate to the crisis, selectivity becomes a poison that eats away at the credibility of this body.

Fifth, I encourage the President, and Member States, to develop a stronger, more unified voice in world affairs on behalf of human rights. I also suggest consideration be given to the need to exclude from this body States involved in the most egregious violations of human rights.

My final observation is this: many senior officials and diplomats indulge in attacks against the human rights mechanisms, or deny the existence of serious violations. It has been extraordinary in the past three years to see how some of these senior officials who once took a dim view of human rights will change their views fundamentally when they themselves are stripped of some of their own rights and freedoms. Violations of human rights should not have to become so personal, for all of us to truly grasp their importance.

Mr. President, [...]


Full statement available here

Video available here



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