Statement by Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein,
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
to the Human Rights Council's 31st session
10 March 2016
Over the past ten days, many delegations have shared with me their alarm about the growing disarray in many countries. And among other issues, I have raised with many of them my concerns about arrests, harassment and spurious prosecutions of journalists, activists, political opponents and human rights defenders.
The immediate response of many delegations is to state that these women and men were affiliated with extremist groups, or were attempting to overthrow the State. But when a 13 year-old is arrested and tortured for participating in a demonstration; when journalists are jailed after publishing a video of malfeasance; when a t-shirt reading "CLEAN" is banned because it threatens national security – these surely were not threats in any real sense.
What threatens the legitimacy of the State is the idea that government is a prize that can be captured, held by force and exploited for the benefit of a limited group. To erode the right of all members of society to participate fully in decision-making is to undermine the foundation on which every State stands: its service to its people.
I am also disturbed by a widespread practise of what could be termed "human rights window-dressing". The ratification of treaties and agreements, and acceptance of recommendations stemming from UN human rights mechanisms, are not in themselves human rights achievements. There needs to be follow-up and real change to bring greater freedoms and dignity to the people. Unless consequential at the level of the rights of the individual, the work we do will remain bureaucratic – or even theatre. Human rights obligations should not be a "tick-the-box" exercise designed only to boost a country's international image.
In discussing the activities of my Office in 2015, and our current concerns, I trust you will bear in mind the responsibility of States for standing by the binding laws and principles of human rights. We stand ready to assist, within the limits of our resources.
Over the past five decades, people in Palestine have endured not only occupation, but also multiple, overlapping human rights violations. The recent escalation of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in parts of Israel, which has led to the deaths of dozens of Palestinians and many Israelis, should remind us that only justice can build a real and sustainable peace. The recent violent attacks on Israeli civilians are inexcusable. The root causes of this violence also cannot be ignored. The frustration and despair of Palestinians arises from the prolonged occupation; ongoing settlement expansion and settler violence; the blockade of Gaza; and failure to ensure accountability. With the young, indeed children, at the forefront of this escalation, alarm bells should be ringing for all of us. Decision-makers must understand that new generations of Palestinians are losing hope. I urge this Council to reaffirm its support for a just, fair and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—one that involves an independent Palestinian state, and an Israel that is safe and secure in its borders.