Opening Statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council’s 31st session

February 29, 2016

The Statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, on 29 February 2016 is worth reading (as usual). Some of the highlights are: UN HCHR Al Hussein
Today we meet against a backdrop of accumulating departures from that body of institutions and laws which States built to codify their behaviour. Gross violations of international human rights law – which clearly will lead to disastrous outcomes – are being greeted with indifference. More and more States appear to believe that the legal architecture of the international system is a menu from which they can pick and choose – trashing what appears to be inconvenient in the short term.

This piecemeal dismantling of a system of law and values that States themselves set up to ward off global threats is deeply alarming. Instead of taking a reasoned and cooperative approach to settling challenges – including the rise of violent extremism, the growing number of armed conflicts, and the movement of people seeking safety – many leaders are pandering to a simplistic nationalism, which mirrors the simplified and destructive ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mind-set of the extremists, and fans a rising wind of prejudice and fear. This bid to find unilateral quick fixes for issues that have broad roots is not only unprincipled, it is illusory – and it contributes to great suffering and escalating disarray. 


Conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere have unleashed a toxic brew of malevolent forces, including the commission of sickening crimes and atrocities, and the emergence of human trafficking gangs. These are the circumstances that migrants are increasingly fleeing. The trauma they have suffered is appalling; they deserve the international community’s sympathy and compassion. To keep building higher walls against the flight of these desperate people is an act of cruelty and a delusion. Migration is a basic fact of human history, and it requires global sharing of responsibility. The welcome of millions of displaced people after the Second World War was clearly a positive, as well as a principled, move for the States which opened their doors. Agreements to resettle and integrate the refugees and migrants of Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam, and people fleeing war in the former Yugoslavia: these decisions not only brought net benefit to the host States, but also displayed moral leadership and international cooperation. Today, instead, we see hostility, disarray, and a rising roar of xenophobia….”Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hate, and hate leads to violence. That is the equation,” wrote Abu al-Walid Mohammad ibn Ahmed ibn Rushd, the great Islamic and European philosopher of Spain, 850 years ago. When leaders express, or ignite, waves of hate speech, as we have seen in recent months – hate speech against migrants, and specific ethnic and religious groups – they are setting off shock-waves, whose impact will lead to violence. 

Similarly, when Governments clamp down against grassroots activists, journalists and political opponents – or scrap the guarantees of an independent judiciary – they are not acting to halt violent extremism. They are dismantling the integrity of their societies and the people’s trust and respect for fundamental institutions. Crushing human freedoms will not protect us from terrorism. It creates dangerous divisions and grievances that will lead to more violence.  


..We need a new, concerted set of policies which establish the hope that people will be able to live in fair and just societies in their own homes. Meanwhile, there must be a sane, principled and compassionate welcome given to people who are fleeing for their lives. I urge Member States to rise above the crescendo of xenophobia and gather lessons from the great integrative forces of history. Cities and civilizations have been irrigated by diversity, and have welcomed far greater movements of people in the past…

On these and other topics, I and my Office speak out, and act, to the full extent of our capacity – and here I would like to pay tribute to the Secretary-General for his Human Rights Up Front initiative, promoted also by the Deputy Secretary-General, which has given new impetus to the whole system to speak up on human rights. We do this work boldly, although we are dependent on States for resources,  because the inherent dignity and worth of the human person; equality between all men and women; the economic and social advancement of all peoples – these human rights principles are the basis of peace. 

The combined influence of 47 States is assembled here. We speak with the weight of the United Nations. Both individually and as the representatives of States, I urge you to act with courage and on principle, and to take a strong stand regarding the protection of civilians. The perpetrators of severe violations of this order must know that they will, at the first occasion, be sanctioned to the full extent of the law. I urge you to rise above national self-interest and heal divisions instead of fuelling them. To abide by and protect international humanitarian and human rights law. I urge you to deploy your diplomatic power to uphold peace and advance the protection of human rights for all people, in other States and within your own. 

Source: Statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, 29 February 2016

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