Opening Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


Geneva, Switzerland. June,13th 2016. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, delivered this morning his opening statement at the Human Rights Council. Today, he sent a strong message to the international community which he claims it is no longer acting as one. “When the Inter-American Commission announces it has to cut […]

Geneva, Switzerland. June,13th 2016. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, delivered this morning his opening statement at the Human Rights Council. Today, he sent a strong message to the international community which he claims it is no longer acting as one.

“When the Inter-American Commission announces it has to cut its personnel by forty percent – and when States have already withdrawn from it and the Inter-American Court…do we really still have an international community? When the threads forming it are being tugged away and the tapestry, our world, is unravelling? Or are there only fragmented communities of competing interests operating behind a screen of feigned allegiance to laws and institutions?”, asked the High Commissioner.

He continued saying that hate is becoming mainstreamed and “walls –which tormented previous generations, and have never yielded any sustainable solution to any problem– are returning”. He mentioned the ongoing backlash against public freedoms, crackdowns on civil society activists and human rights defenders and the fact that judicial institutions which act as checks on executive power are being dismantled around the world.

The High Commissioner continued with his update outlining some very pressing human rights concerns across the globe, focusing in every region. When he mentioned the Americas, he started condemning “with the greatest possible force the outrageous attacks by violent extremists on innocent people, chosen at random, or because of their presumed beliefs, or opinions, or their sexual orientation”.

He then highlighted how the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights is an important strategic partner and inspiration for the United Nations system, and a vital human rights actor within the region. The financial crisis that it faces is alarming, so he called on Member States from the Americas, who so constructively engage with the Human Rights Council, to also come out in defence of their regional human rights system through regular financial contributions.

Regarding the very high incidence of gun violence and gun-related deaths, the Office of the High Commissioner says, the Americas have by far the highest rate of intentional homicide of any region in the world. Many of these crimes can be linked to organised criminal gangs, which also drive corruption of the judiciary and other institutions.

When mentioning country situations in the Americas he noted the following:

  • In El Salvador, violence has risen steadily and, last year it had by far the highest murder rate of any country in the world not at war. Pervasive violence has forced thousands of people to migrate, mainly to the US, including unaccompanied children who fear they will be killed if they refuse to enrol in gangs.
  • Regarding the situation in Venezuela, he shared the concerns of the Organization of American States, as well as its conviction that a solution to the current critical situation cannot be imposed from outside but must come from Venezuelans.
  • In Guatemala, he welcomed the launch of a national dialogue on justice reform in response to numerous recommendations by his Office regarding judicial independence, access to justice and institutional strengthening.
  • Haiti still does not have a constitutional President, and this lack of stable governance structures is impeding action on a wide range of crucial human rights issues. The fate of Haitians and people of Haitian descent deported from the Dominican Republic is also of concern.
  • He welcomed the historic ruling two weeks ago in Argentina regarding Operation Condor. Fourteen former military officials from Argentina and Uruguay were found guilty of crimes and human rights violations, including torture. This landmark of accountability will finally bring a measure of peace to the families of the countless victims.
  • The greatest threat to the dividends of peace in Colombia, is the risk that violence and human rights violations will be generated by struggles for control of illicit coca growing and illegal mining, following demobilisation.
  • In the United States of America, although federal civil rights legislation has had undeniable positive impact, many African Americans in particular struggle to achieve their rights to full equality. Especially when they are poor, African Americans are more likely to be exposed to violence and crime, less likely to achieve a decent education and will have fewer employment opportunities, receive less adequate health care and face more violent interactions with the police. There is a need for much more action to address structural racial discrimination in the country.
  • Accountability and justice must be upheld in cases of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. The findings by the Working Group on People of African Descent say ID laws have discriminatory impact on minorities.
  • Regarding the topics raised in the light of the International Decade for People of African Descent, he noted a continuing low political representation of Afro-descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean are noticed. There are around 150 million people of African descent in the region, amounting to about 30 percent of the population. They make up more than half the population of Brazil and well over ten percent of the population of Cuba, but their representation in high levels of government, including Ministerial Cabinets, is far lower. Representation matters. This deficit of representation at the summit of power affects all of society: parliaments, workplaces in the public and the private sectors, schools, law courts, the media – all of them places in which the voices of Afro-descendants are given too little weight. The voices, the choices, the experiences and the faces of Afro-descendants need to be better reflected in government.

Lastly, the High Commissioner mentioned the state of implementation of a resolution on treaty body strengthening as globally positive. The treaty body system is making strides towards greater efficiency and effectiveness, as attested by the notable increase in State party reviews, examinations of individual communications and field visits.

He ended his update by suggesting some tools which can roll back negative forces and revive the resilience and unity of societies around the world: equality, dignity, participation and respect. “Conflict can be prevented, and peace, security and development can be strengthened or rebuilt, brick by brick…Despite the often terrible trends that I have outlined in this discussion, I firmly believe that it is not yet too late to act”, he concluded.

Full opening statement can be found in here.

For more information on the Human Rights Council, please contact our Legal Adviser in Geneva, Laia Evia, at Evia@oldrace.wp and follow @raceandequality on Twitter.

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