Posts Tagged ‘Swissinfo’

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid, speaks freely

June 28, 2020

Imogen Foulkes

Imogen Foulkes – who regularly reports from Geneva – wonders whether being UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is it the toughest job at the UN? On 27 June 2020 she published a lengthy interview with Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who was UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 2014-2018.

Zeid, as he likes to be known, is from a privileged background. He is a member of Jordan’s royal family, but never seems to have been comfortable with the term ‘prince’. His career with the UN began, he told me, almost by accident, when he accompanied his brother on a trip to the United States. He ended up in New York, where a friend at the United Nations told him the UN was recruiting for its work during the conflict in former Yugoslavia.….

Almost 20 years later, in 2014, Zeid was approached to become UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. His initial reaction, perhaps based on his experience in former Yugoslavia, and his knowledge that the UN could at times be frustratingly ineffective, was to refuse. But he took a walk around New York’s Central Park to think about it. “That was probably fatal,” he remembers with a laugh. “If I had just said no, that would have been the end of it, but once I had thought about it I couldn’t say no.”

.…His maiden speech to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in September 2014 contained a withering attack on Islamic State, warning that any territory it controlled would be ‘a harsh, mean-spirited house of blood’. He also turned his attention to Europe’s rightwing populist leaders, calling the UK’s Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands ‘demagogues’. And when Donald Trump was running for office, Zeid described him as a ‘bigot’, and suggested it would be dangerous for him to get elected.

Clearly this is not a strategy designed to win friends in governments, but Zeid is unapologetic. Trying to keep governments on side, whatever their actions, is, he believes, a mistake the UN makes far too often.’…[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/15/not-so-diplomatic-diplomat-of-the-year-zeid/]..

Rather than worry what the reactions of government leaders might be to the words and deeds of UN officials, Zeid believes it is governments who should have a wary respect for the UN.

And while we may remember Zeid most for his outspoken comments about Donald Trump, in fact during his four years in office, he and the UN Human Rights Office were hard at work, often quietly behind the scenes, investigating human rights violations around the world. ,(Syria, investigations into the conflict in Ukraine, into the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, …..He described the violence as containing ‘elements of genocide’, and, in a final interview before leaving office, told me Aung San Suu Kyi should have resigned rather than preside over such atrocities.

Nowadays, Zeid is Professor of Law and Human Rights at the University of Pennsylvania, and a member of The Elders [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/25/two-human-rights-personalities-join-the-elders/]

But he remains a keen observer of the United Nations,and thinks to key to progress is persuading the permanent members of the UN Security Council to give up their veto when atrocity crimes are taking place. “That would unlock the possibility for collective action… and we can see the Security Council operating in the way it ought to be operating,” he said……

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/09/former-u-n-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-zeid-warns-about-the-moral-collapse-of-global-leadership/

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/is-it-the-toughest-job-at-the-un-/45863026

First “True story award winners” named in Bern

September 2, 2019

The winners of the first-ever True Story Award were announced during a ceremony at the Reportagen Festival in Bern on Saturday 31 August 2019. Three journalists from three countries were given top honours for their exceptional and courageous reporting:

Journalist Aleksandr Burtin was awarded first prize and CHF30,000 for his profile of Chechen human rights activist Oyub Titiyev, who was imprisoned on fabricated charges. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/11/two-welcome-paroles-in-russia-and-zimbabwe-but-justice-is-still-to-be-done/] His report Monitor 1, first published in the Russian-language paper Meduza, was commended for its excellent narrative and the unexpected way it shined a spotlight on a forgotten war.

Second prize went to the American journalist Mark Arax for A Kingdom from Dust – a sweeping, in-depth investigation into the world of agribusiness in California. Arax was recognised for weaving social themes such as climate change, water resources and California history into the narrative.

Chinese journalist Du Qiang received the third spot for The Vagabond Club, capturing the lives of a rebellious group of migrant workers in Shenzhen. Qiang’s report was “the most surprising story of all the entries” according to the jury and was praised for the way it captured an unknown aspect of society.

The winners were chosen from 39 nominees who were selected from more than 900 submissions from 98 countries in 21 languages. All nominees were invited to the Reportagen Festival taking place on August 30-September 1, of which 36 are attending and sharing their stories throughout the weekend. The True Story Award is a global journalism prize. It aims to recognize quality journalism and make reporters’ voices known beyond the borders of their home countries, and in doing so to increase the diversity of perspectives offered in the media. Winners were chosen by an eight-member jury from eight countries that evaluated submissions based on their depth of research, the quality of the journalism and social relevance.

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/true-story-award_winners-of-first-global-journalism-prize-named-in-bern/45198318

China’s ‘win-win’ resolution gets the votes in the UN Council

March 26, 2018

Frédéric Burnand for Swissinfo reported on 26 March 2018 that the UN Human Rights Council in the end adopted the Chinese draft resolution that I referred to earlier: [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/07/china-and-the-un-human-rights-council-really-win-win/].

Conseil des droits de l'homme
Diplomats gathered on Friday to vote on resolutions presented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (swissinfo.ch)

The Chinese resolution calling for “mutually beneficial cooperation” on human rights issues was adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, but human rights defenders and several countries say it actually weakens human rights principles.

The Chinese resolution is the first stage of a major step backwards,” Geneva-based human rights specialist Adrien Claude Zoller told swissinfo.ch, calling it “THE major event” of the Human Rights Council’s 37th sessionexternal link.

At first glance, Beijing’s resolution at the Human Rights Council – only its second-ever in nearly a dozen years ! – seems relatively innocent. The text, full of diplomatic language such as “universality” and “international constructive dialogue”, was adopted on Friday evening by 28 votes to one, with 17 abstentions.

But it nonetheless upset many diplomats and human rights campaigners in Geneva. Australia, Britain, Japan, and Switzerland were among those abstaining, though many envoys spoke out against the text.  Ahead of Friday’s vote, Switzerland said the resolution contained “vague and ambiguous language that weakens fundamental human rights principles”. [see also in this context: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/22/unfortunately-europe-is-not-stepping-up-its-human-rights-policy-in-us-absence/]

While welcoming “constructive international cooperation as a means of promoting and protecting human rights”, Switzerland’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Valentin Zellweger, stressed that human rights-related mandates need to be able to act quickly and work efficiently to prevent crises. Civil society, he added, must be able to play a crucial role in protecting against and addressing violations.

Zoller said the resolution recalled certain language and concepts heard during the Cold War when the Soviet Union also invoked the idea of “mutually beneficial cooperation”. “The procedure put in place by the Chinese resolution involves putting an extra layer around the system of special procedures [such as independent investigations] and increasing pressure on them,” Zoller declared.  It amounts, he said, to an attempt to “kill the messenger” and complicate the work of the special rapporteurs who carry it.   “It attempts to do this by ignoring the monitoring bodies of human rights conventions [and returning] to the principle of non-interference.”

John Fisher, the Geneva-based director of Human Rights Watch, also criticised China’s strategy. His organisation last year issued a reportexternal link warning of Chinese interference in UN human rights mechanisms.

The United States cast the only “no” vote on the resolution, co-sponsored by states including Pakistan and Egypt. US diplomat Jason Mack said China was using its resolution to try to weaken the UN human rights system and norms.  “The ‘feel-good’ language about mutually beneficial cooperation is intended to benefit autocratic states at the expense of people whose human rights and fundamental freedoms we are all obligated as states to respect,” he said.

He added that Chinese spokespeople had clearly been trying to “glorify their head of state by inserting his thoughts into the international human rights lexicon”.

On Monday, China accused the Americans of arrogance for rejecting the Chinese resolution. “I think the comments by this US official in Geneva…were extremely unreasonable, and also reflect the consistent ignorance and haughtiness of the US side,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Many countries expressed at the meeting that the Chinese resolution reflected the common wishes of the international community and helped raise the ability of developing nations to speak for themselves on human rights issues, Hua added.

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/un-human-rights-council-_china-s–win-win–rights-initiative-makes-waves-in-geneva/44000588?&ns_mchannel=rss&srg_evsource=gn

Which heroes should we cast in bronze? Human rights defenders and their statues.

February 3, 2016

Some time back, 12 October 2015, Simon Bradley wrote for Swissinfo a piece on the question: “Which heroes should we cast in bronze?”. Indeed, statues celebrating dead generals, kings, artists and philosophers are found in public spaces around the world, but what about contemporary heroes, especially human rights defenders? I found a few cases where human rights defenders objected to a statue (think of the Confederate statue issue in the USA, or the protest against a statue of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patellar on the Sardar Sarovar Dam in India – see: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/24188), but the positive question of which human rights heroes should be honored and how is an interesting one. Bradley’s article and thus this post concern just Geneva. I wonder what other experiences exist in this area and would welcome contributions! Read the rest of this entry »