In a lengthy human rights address that warned of the world growing “darker and more dangerous,” a United Nations high commissioner included the United States in a list of 40 countries about which his office has growing concerns.
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 — warned a year ago that nationalist populists like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage were using “tactics similar” to ISIS to frighten and reel in followers, and cautioned that “the populists, demagogues and political fantasists” would end up stoking “colossal violence.”
In his Monday statement to open the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Zeid, who graduated from Johns Hopkins and was living in New York on 9/11, said he “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.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
Zeid first aimed at Burma, where in fewer than three weeks more than 270,000 people have fled to Bangladesh amid what “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” against the indigenous Rohingya, who are majority Sunni with a Hindu minority.
“We have received multiple reports and satellite imagery of security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages, and consistent accounts of extrajudicial killings, including shooting fleeing civilians,” he described. “…The Myanmar government should stop claiming that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages.”
The commissioner called out India and Pakistan for religious and ethnic minority intolerance, as well as the Philippines for the government’s “open support for a shoot-to-kill policy” against suspects. “I am also shocked by President Duterte’s threat to bomb schools for indigenous children in the southern Philippines, which he said were teaching children to rebel against the government. His order to police to shoot any human rights workers who ‘are part of’ the drug trade or who ‘obstruct justice’ is yet another blow to his country’s reputation and his people’s rights.”
Zeid called out China for its imprisonment and poor treatment of political prisoners and Vietnam for its death penalty, as well as North Korea for “curtailing or extinguishing every fundamental freedom.” He also detailed human-rights abuses throughout the Middle East, and renewed his call for the Syrian regime to be referred to the International Criminal Court as “the conflict in Syria has redefined the meaning of the word horror.” He also urged an investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela.
On the United States, Zeid said he’s “concerned by the government’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in six months’ time, despite evidence of its positive impact on the lives of almost 800,000 young immigrants, and on the U.S. economy and society.”
“I hope Congress will now act to provide former DACA beneficiaries with durable legal status,” he said. “I am disturbed by the increase in detentions and deportations of well-established and law-abiding immigrants: the number of migrants detained who had no criminal convictions was 155 percent higher in the first five months of this year than in the equivalent period in 2016. Some migrants, including longstanding residents, are now so frightened of expedited deportation they refrain from accessing police protection and courtrooms; for example, reports of rape by Latina women in Houston fell by 43 percent in the first three months of 2017.”
The commissioner noted that he has publicly expressed “concerns about the anti-Semitism and racism openly voiced in Virginia last month, and which is also increasingly manifested online and in public debates.”
“Free speech is an invaluable and essential right, under both international standards and U.S. law, and it should not be weaponized by calls for violence and hatred,” Zeid added.
Other countries called out by the human rights commissioner include Turkey for its post-coup purge of dissenters and Hungary’s “drastic and inhumane procedures which limit access by migrants to even basic services.”
“I am appalled at the horrific abuses migrants face after being intercepted and returned to Libya. Extra-judicial killings, slavery, torture, rape, human trafficking and starvation are only some of the abuses reportedly inflicted on migrants in both official and informal detention centers in the country,” he said. “I remind all EU governments, and indeed all governments worldwide, that no human being may ever, under any circumstances, be deported to a place where he or she faces the likelihood of torture and human rights violations.”
Zeid stressed “a very critical need for accountability for violations in South Sudan,” as the country “is being quite simply destroyed, with one million South Sudanese now seeking shelter from the devastating violence in Uganda, and one million more in other countries.”