Human Rights and Dangerous Rhetoric

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Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the current UN high commissioner for human rights, will step down later this month, citing a waning commitment among UN member nations to fight back against human rights abuses. In particular, Zeid has cited several problems he sees with the current US administration: rhetoric that vilifies minorities, and incitement of hostility against the press.

According to the departing commissioner, the worst events of the 20th century were those that tend to occur “when language is used in a way that focuses on groups… who have traditionally suffered a great deal from bigotry and prejudice and chauvinism”. Citing several concerns, including both the actions of the US and the aftermath of mass killings in Syria and Yemen-- which the UN proved unwilling or unable to halt-- the commissioner argues that human rights have become a reduced priority for the UN. These issues now account for less than 3% of overall spending.

Zeid was actually recently blocked from addressing the UN Security Council regarding human rights abuses in Syria, after being unable to secure the nine votes needed to move forward with the session.  “It tells me more about the weakening influence of the western powers that they could not secure nine votes for a briefing,” he said.

If the UN—and the human rights council—show a reduced interest in protecting human rights during times of heightened threat, then Zeid asks, why do they exist? His question represents a cause for serious concern, especially during an age in which a once-respected pillar of the west has now altered course and appears to be espousing authoritarian rhetoric. Please read more here, and join us as we witness this prominent departure and its implications.