UN Commissioner: Human Rights 'Under Broad Assault from Terrorists, Authoritarian Leaders and Populists'

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, right, sitting next to Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, speaks during a Syria session at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 14, 2017. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

The UN commissioner who warned last year of “weaponized” populist movements potentially escalating to violence warned today in a Human Rights Day message that rights are now under assault from “terrorists, authoritarian leaders and populists.”


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein — a Jordanian prince married to an American from Texas, global maternal health activist Sarah Butler — singled out in a September 2016 speech Dutch politician Geert Wilders, then-candidate Donald Trump, the UK’s Nigel Farage and other “populists, demagogues and political fantasists,” saying they used “tactics similar” to ISIS to frighten and reel in followers.

In his message for Sunday, the 70th anniversary’s of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Zeid said that “as World War II and the Holocaust grow distant,” awareness present at the time the declaration was drawn up “appears to be evaporating at an alarming rate, and the enormous progress that has been achieved through progressive enactment of human rights principles, as laid out in the Universal Declaration, is being increasingly forgotten or willfully ignored.”

“The universality of rights is being contested across much of the world,” he said. “It is under broad assault from terrorists, authoritarian leaders and populists who seem only too willing to sacrifice, in varying degrees, the rights of others, for the sake of power. Their combined influence has grown at the expense of liberal democratic order, peace and justice.”


Zeid called out “mounting cruelties and crimes being perpetrated in conflicts across the world” and “an antagonistic nationalism on the rise, with surging levels of racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination taking root, even in countries which had grown complacent in the belief these were problems of the past, rather than ones that could all too easily re-emerge and reassert themselves.”

“Measures to end discrimination and promote greater justice,” the UN official said, are “starting to be being dismantled by those who seek profit from hatred and exploitation” as “we see a backlash against many human rights advances, including on the rights of women and those of many minorities, in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe.”

Zeid did not mention any politicos by name in this statement, but slammed “political leaders who openly deny the fundamental truth of article 1 of the Universal Declaration which states that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ Political leaders who defy their forbears’ promise ‘to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.’”


He concluded that “human rights are too important to be left to states alone.”

“If we let our commitment to uphold human rights drift – if we turn aside when they are abused – they will slowly shrivel and die. If that happens, the cost in human life and misery will be immense, and the whole of humanity will pay a heavy price,” Zeid warned, urging the world to “organize and mobilize in defense of human decency.”


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