GENEVA (8 December 2016) – “Unprecedented pressure on international human rights standards risks unravelling the unique set of protections set in place after the end of World War II,” according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
Speaking in the run-up to Human Rights Day on 10 December, Zeid also stressed it was within the power of every individual to play a role in pushing back against such pressures, and that many are already doing so.
“2016 has been a disastrous year for human rights across the globe, and if the growing erosion of the carefully constructed system of human rights and rule of law continues to gather momentum, ultimately everyone will suffer,” Zeid said.
“Many of us are fearful about the way the world is heading,” he said. “Extremist movements subject people to horrific violence. Conflicts and deprivation are forcing families from their homes. Climate change darkens our horizons. Discrimination, yawning economic disparities and the ruthless desire to gain or maintain power at any cost are the principal drivers of current political and human rights crises. Humane values are under attack – and so many people feel overwhelmed, unsure what to do or where to turn.”
“Many leaders are failing to grapple effectively and honestly with these complex social and economic issues,” Zeid said. “So people are turning in desperation to the siren voices exploiting fears, sowing disinformation and division, and making alluring promises they cannot fulfil.”
“But we have learned, through the bitter lessons of history, that humanity will only survive, and thrive, if we seek solutions together. Human rights were intended to be, and still are, the antidote to all of this: everyone has rights – economic and social rights, as well as civil and political rights and the right to development – and it is time to stand up for those rights, not just for yourself but for everyone else.”
The UN human rights chief urged people everywhere to defend a system that was designed precisely with the aim of making the world a better place for everyone.
“A world where people focus only on the needs of their narrow social, national or religious group, and ignore or attack the equal needs of others, is a world which can very quickly descend into misery and chaos,” Zeid said.
“Human rights are the basis of effective policy, in societies where people know they can trust government and rely on the law. Tearing up the laws and institutions that were so painstakingly built up over the last half of the 20th century – designed to protect all individuals, as well as promote stability and economic well-being – is shortsighted and dangerous. These are not trifles to be tossed aside for personal or political gain,” he added.
“Syria is the starkest example of failure across the board. A conflict that was totally avoidable, had President Assad chosen to listen to the voices of those protesting peacefully and legitimately against human rights violations. Then, instead of working together to stop the fighting and restore order, individual States stoked the conflict, supported the murderers, provided arms, encouraged extremists – in short, collectively, threw international humanitarian law and human rights law out of the window.”
“The results? The strengthening of Da’esh and other extreme groups, who then stimulated another war and massive abuses — very probably including genocide — in Iraq. The repeated use of chemical weapons. A vast movement of Syrian refugees, which overran the capacity and goodwill of neighbouring countries, and spilled into Europe – where the suddenness and scale of the influx provoked fears which blended with existing economic strains and anti-foreigner sentiment and led to political upheaval.”
“In some parts of Europe, and in the United States, anti-foreigner rhetoric full of unbridled vitriol and hatred, is proliferating to a frightening degree, and is increasingly unchallenged. The rhetoric of fascism is no longer confined to a secret underworld of fascists, meeting in ill-lit clubs or on the ‘Deep Net.’ It is becoming part of normal daily discourse.”
“And that is just one set of problems facing one part of the planet,” Zeid said. “In South Sudan, Myanmar and potentially Burundi, ethnic or religious tensions and violence risk billowing out of control. In Yemen, the rules of war with regard to the protection of civilians have routinely been flouted, and the humanitarian crisis is so great children are starving. In the Philippines, drug users and dealers are routinely being killed in the streets, with the not-so-tacit encouragement of the authorities. Other countries are bringing back the death penalty. Elsewhere civil society organizations are being bullied and banned, human rights and political activists and investigative journalists who try to speak truth to power, or stand up for human rights, are being jailed, or killed. And what are we doing about it?”
“It is time to change course.”
Zeid announced that on Human Rights Day, the UN Human Rights Office will launch a campaign entitled “Stand up for someone’s rights today.”
“At a time of enormous turmoil and rapid change, the values which uphold peace across the world are too important to be left to international institutions and governments alone. It is within the power of every woman, man and child to stand up for respect and tolerance and push back the violence and hatred which threaten our world.”
“In the coming years, the protections provided by international and national human rights laws and systems will be of the utmost importance, not just for those who have yet to fully enjoy them, but also for those who currently take them for granted,” the UN human rights chief said. “Ultimately, human rights are for everyone, and everyone will be affected if we do not fight to preserve them. They took decades of tireless effort by countless committed individuals to establish, but – as we have seen all too clearly in recent months — they are fragile. If we do not defend them, we will lose them.”
“We don’t have to stand by while the haters drive wedges of hostility between communities – we can build bridges. As well as understanding our own rights, we can make a real difference by supporting others. In the street, in school, at work, in public transport; in the voting booth, on social media, at home and on the sports field. Wherever there is discrimination, we can step forward to help safeguard someone’s right to live free from fear and abuse. We can all lobby for better leadership, better laws and greater respect for human dignity.”
“The time for this is now. ‘We the peoples’ can take a stand for rights. Local actions can add up to a global movement to save the rights that a global movement, composed of countless committed individuals and some inspired leaders, created in the first place. [Ends]