Posts Tagged ‘resignation’

Greek government taking ‘positive discrimination’ a step too far?

April 5, 2019

On 4 April 2019, the head of the Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR), Giorgos Stavropoulos, resigned, accusing the (Syriza) government of attempting to alter the balance in the composition of the independent body’s committee.  In his resignation, Stavropoulos criticized the government’s decision to add five members from the LGBTQI community and two more members from the Roma community to the body’s plenary, saying the decision violates “any principle of equality” in relation to the other members of the GNCHR who only have one vote in the committee. Stavropoulos said the body has already made “a decisive contribution” in highlighting the problems of the Roma and LGBTQI community.

However, their excessively favorable treatment at the expense of all other defenders of human rights insults the latter, but also undermines the authority of the Commission itself, uncritically altering its composition and affecting its independence,” he added. GNCHR is an advisory body to the Greek State on matters pertaining to human rights protection.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/239220/article/ekathimerini/news/head-of-greek-human-rights-body-resigns-citing-government-disregard

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in last Council Statement does not mince words

February 28, 2018

 “Given this is my last address as high commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt,” outgoing U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on 26 February 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/] And he was: Zeid delivered one of the strongest and clearest denunciations from a top U.N. official about the Security Council veto. He didn’t mention specific vetoes, but the context made crystal clear he referred to war in Syria, over which Russia and China have repeatedly used the veto to block efforts such as to hold war criminals to account or punish Assad’s government for alleged use of chemical weapons. Zeid instead spoke more broadly and decried “some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times“: Syria, the Ituri and Kasai regions of Congo; the embattled city of Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; and Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.  He denounced the “minimal action” taken even though his office has repeatedly exposed human rights violations that “should have served as a trigger for preventive action.“The High Commissioner stated that the five permanent, veto-wielding council members “must answer to the victims” if the veto is used to block any action that could reduce human suffering. “Second to those who are criminally responsible — those who kill and maim — the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council,” he said Still, Zeid praised France for “commendable leadership” for its recent push for a code of conduct on use of the veto, which he said Britain and more than 115 countries have supported. “It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto,” he said.

Another outspoken statement that lead to furious reactions concerned especially some eastern european states: “Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary‘s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?”  This led to Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó  urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to resign. “It is not acceptable for an employee of an international organization to make such disgusting accusations. The Supreme Commissioner must resign, “Szijjártó said. “We have to defend our borders and we will make every effort to clarify the full stance in the UN debate on migration“. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

For the full text of the High Commissioner’s speech delivered on 26 February 2018 in Geneva see below:
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/united-nations-zeid-raad-al-hussein-russia-china-us-security-council-veto/
http://www.novinite.com/articles/188279/Hungary+Wants+the+Resignation+of+the+United+Nations+High+Commissioner+for+Human+Rights%2C+who+Called+Victor+Orban+%22Racist%22
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-u-n-human-rights-chief-blasts-1519666939-htmlstory.html

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37th session of the Human Rights Council: Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Published on 26 Feb 2018)

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Distinguished Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Friends,

May I begin by welcoming the Security Council’s unanimous decision in relation to a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which came after intense lobbying by our Secretary-General and others, and we applaud Sweden and Kuwait for their leadership in the Security Council on this. We insist on its full implementation without delay. However, we have every reason to remain cautious, as airstrikes on eastern Ghouta continue this morning. Resolution 2401 (2018) must be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence: seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing.

Eastern Ghouta, the other besieged areas in Syria; Ituri and the Kasais in the DRC; Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; Northern Rakhine in Myanmar have become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times, because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors. Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action. And given this is my last address as High Commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt.

Second to those who are criminally responsible – those who kill and those who maim – the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they – the permanent members – who must answer before the victims.

France has shown commendable leadership among the P5 in championing a code of conduct on the use of veto; the United Kingdom has also joined the initiative, now backed by over 115 countries. It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto.

Mr. President,

A few miles away, at CERN, physicists try to understand what our planet, and the universe or universes, are made of. What matter is, at the most basic level, and how it all fits together. To understand the physical world, we humans have long realised we must tunnel deeply, beyond molecular biology and geology; and go to those sub-atomic spaces for answers.

Why do we not do the same when it comes to understanding the human world? Why, when examining the political and economic forces at work today, do we not zoom in more deeply? How can it be so hard to grasp that to understand states and societies – their health and ills; why they survive; why they collapse – we must scrutinize at the level of the individual: individual human beings and their rights. After all, the first tear in the fabric of peace often begins with a separation of the first few fibres, the serious violations of the rights of individuals – the denial of economic and social rights, civil and political rights, and most of all, in a persistent denial of freedom.

There is another parallel with physics. Gravity is a weak force, easily defied by a small child raising a finger, but there is also a strong force governing the orbits of planets and the like. So too with human rights. Some States view human rights as of secondary value – far less significant than focusing on GDP growth or geopolitics. While it is one of the three pillars of the UN, it is simply not treated as the equal of the other two. The size of the budget is telling enough, and the importance accorded to it often seems to be in the form of lip service only. Many in New York view it condescendingly as that weak, emotional, Geneva-centred, pillar — not serious enough for some of the hardcore realists in the UN Security Council.

Yet like in physics, we also know human rights to be a strong force, perhaps the strongest force. For whenever someone in New York calls a topic “too sensitive,” there’s a good chance human rights are involved. And why sensitive? Because a denial of rights hollows out a government’s legitimacy. Every time the phrase “too sensitive” is used, it therefore confirms the supreme importance of human rights, and their effect as a strong force.

For no tradition, legal or religious, calls for or supports oppression – none. Discussions about rights are avoided by those who seek deflection because of guilt, those who shy away from difficult decisions and those who profit from a more superficial, simple, and ultimately useless, analysis. Better just leave it to Geneva, they say – and the crises continue to grow.

To understand the maladies of societies, grasp the risks of conflict, and prevent or resolve them we must — like particle physicists – work ourselves into the smaller spaces of individuals and their rights, and ask the most basic questions there. The most devastating wars of the last 100 years did not come from countries needing more GDP growth. They stemmed from – and ¡ quote from the Universal Declaration – a “disregard and contempt for human rights”. They stemmed from oppression.

Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?

Mr. President,

Perhaps we have gone mad, when families grieve in too many parts of the world for those lost to brutal terrorism, while others suffer because their loved ones are arrested arbitrarily, tortured or killed at a black site, and were called terrorists for simply having criticized the government; and others await execution for crimes committed when they were children. While still more can be killed by police with impunity, because they are poor; or when young girls in El Salvador are sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for miscarriages; when transgender women in Aceh are punished and humiliated in public. When Nabeel Rajab is sentenced to five years for alleging torture; or when 17 year-old Ahed Tamimi is tried on 12 counts for slapping a soldier enforcing a foreign occupation. When journalists are jailed in huge numbers in Turkey, and the Rohingya are dehumanized, deprived and slaughtered in their homes – with all these examples bedevilling us, why are we doing so little to stop them, even though we should know how dangerous all of this is?

It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations such as these, and not a lack of GDP growth, which will spark the conflicts that can break the world. While our humanitarian colleagues tend to the victims – and we salute their heroism and their selflessness – their role is not to name or single out the offenders publicly. That task falls to the human rights community, that it is our task. For it is the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights which will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This, we cannot allow to happen.

We will therefore celebrate, with passion, the 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which incarnates rights common to all the major legal and religious traditions. We will defend it, in this anniversary year, more vigorously than ever before and along with our moral leaders – the human rights defenders in every corner of the globe – we will call for everyone to stand up for the rights of others.

This is, in the end, a very human thing to do. Artificial intelligence will never fully replicate the moral courage, the self-sacrifice and, above all, the love for all human beings that sets human rights defenders apart from everyone else. As I close out my term as High Commissioner in the coming months, I wish to end this statement by saying it has been the honour of my life to have come to know many of these defenders; to have worked with them, and for them.

Thank you.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/37th-session-human-rights-council-opening-statement-un-high-commissioner-human-rights

Bound to happen but still…High Commissioner Zeid announces he will not seek second term

December 22, 2017

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, left, is not seeking a second term. CreditSalvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone, via Associated Press

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has made the unusual decision to not seek a second four-year term. The decision was conveyed in a short statement that was emailed to his staff early this Wednesday and shared with some media. “Next year will be the last of my mandate”..  “After reflection, I have decided not to seek a second four-year term. To do so, in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice — which is your voice.” “There are many months ahead of us: months of struggle, perhaps, and even grief — because although the past year has been arduous for us, it has been appalling for many of the people we serve” .

This is very much in line with his courageous statements and actions over the years often referred to in this blog [e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]. Still, a blow to the international human rights movement.

While most high level United Nations officials serve as long as their mandate allows, no single Human Rights Commissioner has served a full four-year second term. Zeid’s four-year term expires next September. It has been clear for months that some of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council would use their influence to block it. Mr. Zeid al-Hussein – to his credit – has been critical of all of them.

He has been outspoken about the Russian-backed government of Syria. He has warned of the prospects of genocide by the Chinese-backed government of Myanmar. And he has called out the Trump administration several times, most pointedly on the travel ban against citizens of Muslim-majority countries and after the demonstrations by white supremacists in Charlottesville. Mr. al-Hussein’s willingness to take on the powerful by name, along with what he has described as the “eye-watering stupidity” of abusive governments, made him few friends. Mr. al-Hussein proved confounding to many by defying classification: the first human rights chief from the Middle East but a sharp critic of violations by Arab governments; a Muslim who condemned Islamic militants; and a Jordanian prince who discarded his title to take the job and become an advocate for victims.

[see also e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/15/martin-ennals-award-2016-relive-the-ceremony-in-13-minutes-or-in-full/]

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/12/21/2017-the-year-even-the-u-n-human-rights-commissioner-gave-up-on-human-rights/?utm_term=.00b8792d71f7

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/12/20/world/un-human-rights-al-hussein.html

 

Mark Thompson – old hand in APT – leaves in 2018

December 15, 2017

Thursday, 14 December 2017, the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT, founded in 1977 by the Swiss banker and lawyer Jean-Jacques Gautier) announced that its Secretary-General, Mark Thomson, will retire on the 31st of July 2018. Mark, who has served as Secretary General since 2001, says that this is the right time for him to hand over the reins to someone else and that, whilst he intends to remain active in torture prevention and access to justice issues, this will be on a voluntary and ad hoc basis and that his main goal is to seize the opportunity to focus his time and energy on his young family. The President of the APT, Martine Brunschwig Graf expressed her own and the Board’s sincere appreciation for the work Mark has done over the past seventeen years, stating that: “Mark has provided first-class leadership to the APT and during that time he has played a guiding role in some immensely important developments in torture prevention across the globe. He is held in high esteem by public oversight bodies and governmental and non-governmental partners in many countries who will be as sorry as we are to see him move on.” Before 2001 Mark Thompson worked at the International al Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

The APT’s Board, taking into account the quality of the existing team, has chosen not to make a public call and will instead appoint his successor at the next board meeting, on the 13th of April 2018.

https://www.apt.ch/en/news_on_prevention/upcoming-change-in-apt-management/