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New U.N. Human Rights Chief Urges Action to End Conflicts in Syria and Iraq

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein began his tenure on Monday as the United Nations human rights chief with a strongly worded statement in which he forcefully condemned Islamic extremism and urged international action to end conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

In his first speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mr. Zeid, a Jordanian prince who has dispensed with his royal title as incompatible with his new post, identified the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as "the immediate and urgent priority of the international community."

Pledging to be "firm, yet always fair, critical of states where necessary," Mr. Zeid, the first Muslim to be assume the post as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, delivered a 40-minute statement. He called for the protection of civilians by all parties to "the deplorable conflict" in Ukraine; praised investigations into human rights abuses in North Korea and Sri Lanka; highlighted the "chain of human rights violations" committed by Australia in its treatment of migrants; and voiced concern about the United States' detention of unaccompanied child migrants.

Conflict has reduced Syria to "a slaughterhouse," Mr. Zeid said, and a state created by the Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria would be "a harsh, meanspirited house of blood." The group's brutal actions, like those of Muslim extremists across the Middle East and Africa, he added, offered "only annihilation to Muslims, Christians, Jews and others, altogether the rest of humanity, who believe differently to them."

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict provided "another example of the need to end persistent discrimination and impunity," Mr. Zeid said, highlighting the "particularly devastating toll in death, suffering and destruction."

Israel has a right to live free and secure from indiscriminate rocket fire, he said, but Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have a right to live "without conflict, without a blockade, indeed without the wide range of daily human rights infringements that are generated by military occupation, illegal settlements, excessive use of force, home demolitions, and the wall that continues to be constructed."

Mr. Zeid, formerly Jordan's ambassador to the United Nations, also addressed the paralysis of world powers in the United Nations Security Council. Their use of vetoes to block actions that would prevent atrocities is "a form of cruelty," especially when they fail to offer alternatives for addressing grievous human suffering, he said.

Mr. Zeid said he would participate in a ministerial meeting this month to consider a code of conduct for the permanent members of the Security Council, continuing the frequent interaction with the Council by his predecessor, Navi Pillay.

Ms. Pillay had faced criticism from many governments in her battle for the rights of victims, Mr. Zeid observed. He praised her for being one of the most formidable high commissioners for human rights, and "one of the greatest senior officials the U.N. has ever had."

[Source: By Nick Cumming-Bruce, The New York Times, 08Sep14]

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small logoThis document has been published on 15Sep14 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.