Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein warns UN could ‘collapse’ without change

Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein is stepping down after one term as the UN's human rights chief. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein warns UN could ‘collapse’ without change

  • Outgoing rights chief says Security Council’s five permanent members wield too much power
  • Jordanian prince frustrated by inability to pass resolution on Palestine and Syria

GENEVA: The outgoing UN human rights chief said Monday that the Security Council’s five permanent members wield too much power at the United Nations, warning the imbalance must change to avert possible “collapse” of the world body “at great cost to the international community.”
Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein decried the sense among some at the United Nations that the “pentarchy” of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States “is running too much of the business.” He was alluding to the countries’ ability to veto resolutions in cases like alleged injustices in Syria’s war or by Israeli forces against Palestinians.
“When they cooperate things can move; when they don’t everything becomes stuck and the organization in general becomes so marginal to the resolution of these sorts of horrific conflicts that we see,” Zeid said. “That has to change: In the end the organization can collapse at great cost to the international community.”
“There is a sense that the permanent five have created a logjam by dint of their proclivity to use the veto, and the paralysis — less so the UK and France — but of course, the US, Russia and China quite frequently,” he told news agency journalists at his lakeside Geneva office as his term nears its end on Aug. 31.
Zeid, a Jordanian prince, did not seek a new four-year term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has chosen former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to replace Zeid.
In the wide-ranging briefing, Zeid reminisced about late former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and drew distinction between the rights chief’s job and the top UN post — calling the Secretary-General position more about “peace and security” than vocally highlighting rights abuses.
Zeid has drawn plaudits among many human rights advocates for his frankness, but in so doing has ruffled many feathers among many governments, including some of the most powerful ones. He repeated his criticism of US President Trump’s frequent condemnation of journalists and expressed confusion about where the US leader was headed with his policies and the “vision” of some populist European leaders.
“I’m not into making friends with governments,” Zeid said. “But when we feel we need to speak, we will speak.”
Often mild-mannered and eloquent, Zeid bared frustrations about the inability to get authorization for UN rights investigators to visit places like Venezuela or Nicaragua, or the plodding efforts to pass a UN Human Rights Council resolution on countries like Yemen.
His comments exemplified his call for reforms at a world body whose shortcomings have been exposed over issues like Syria’s devastating 7-1/2-year war and rising nationalism. He also alluded to the lessons of World War II that, he suggested, appeared to be fading with time.
“My sense is the further away we get from those historical and dreadful experiences, the more we tend to play fast and loose with the institutions created to prevent repetition,” he said.
When he took office in 2014, Zeid recalled, beheadings by the Daesh group were garnering headlines. Then followed the flood of Syrian migrants into Europe, and a relative rise of right-wing movements there. And many people were blindsided by the fallout on human rights.
“I don’t think many of us perceived that it would all combine to create this sort of pressure on the human rights movement and the return of a sort of demagoguery and an authoritarianism to countries that hitherto we thought had moved firmly into the democratic space,” he said.
“All states are works in progress and one or two generations of reckless politicians can destroy any and every state,” he said. “It’s applicable to the US as well.”


Shutdown and protests in Kashmir Valley after custodial death

Indian Kashmiri villagers shout anti-Indian slogans following the death of school teacher Rizwan Assad Pandith, in police custody in Awantipora of Pulwama district, south of Srinagar on March 19, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 32 min 24 sec ago
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Shutdown and protests in Kashmir Valley after custodial death

  • Rizwan was one of six siblings and was planning to do a doctorate
  • A police statement said Rizwan had died in police custody and that he had been taken in for a “terror case investigation”

NEW DELHI: There have been protests and a shutdown in Indian-administered Kashmir following a custodial death, as residents warned that local anger over police brutality cannot be contained.

Rizwan Asad Pandit, 29, was declared dead on Tuesday by police after he was picked up late on Sunday night from his home.

His brother, Mubashir, said Rizwan had been taken to an interrogation center known locally as Kashmir’s torture camp.

“Police should tell us what the charges against Rizwan are and why he was killed in this manner,” Mubashir told Arab News.

“I could not look at the body of my brother when I saw it for the first time after his death. There was a cut on his forehead, his thigh was cut open, his eyes have been gouged out, his vital organs were damaged, it was such a gory sight to see.

“These security forces don’t have any human values, human compassion. Who treats a normal human being like this? What crime has Rizwan committed? I want justice for my brother. The whole of Kashmir is shocked by this inhumanity.”

A police statement said Rizwan had died in police custody and that he had been taken in for a “terror case investigation.”

Arab News contacted the inspector general of Jammu and Kashmir, S. P. Pani, but he refused to take questions related to Rizwan’s death.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but administer in part, and rebels have been fighting Indian rule for decades, demanding that Indian-controlled Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or established as an independent country.

According to a report from a rights group, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, 2018 was the deadliest year of the past decade in the Kashmir Valley.

It said a total of 586 people were killed in 2018, of which 160 were civilians. The remaining numbers comprised 267 militants and 159 members of the Indian armed forces and Jammu and Kashmir police.

“In Kashmir, custodial killing has become normalized with overlapping tragedies,” Khurram Parvez, a Srinagar-based activist, told Arab News. “The incident has created anger. The issue is that when the prime minister of the country says that he has given free hand to the soldiers, this emboldens the soldier on the ground who feel that he is not accountable to anyone.”

Nobody was saying what the charges were against Rizwan, he added, or who arrested him. He asked what kind of investigation could be expected when basic information was not being provided. 

“The tragedy is that all these killings and human rights violations are escalating tensions among the people. I feel it will further increase the frustration of young people in the valley.”

The valley observed a complete shutdown in response to calls for a strike by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), an alliance of separatist leaders from the area.

There have also been protests since news of the custodial death became public.

Mubashir said that late on Sunday police came to the house and locked family members in one room while separating Rizwan from them. “Then the security personnel seized all our laptops and mobiles and took away Rizwan without telling us what the charges against him were.

“We came to know about his death only through social media. Police didn’t have the courtesy to inform us.”

Rizwan was one of six siblings and was planning to do a doctorate. He was a principal at a local private college and nurtured ambitions to be a professor.

“When you push the Kashmiris to wall, they will also push you back and react. The anger such kind of brutalities create among Kashmiris cannot be easily contained,” Mubashir said.

Dawood Riyaz lost his sight in his left eye following a pellet attack in 2017. He accused the Indian government of being “hell-bent” on destroying the young generation of Kashmiris.

“We are also human. We have the right to dissent. You cannot crush dissent with this level of brutality. Youngsters are really feeling frustrated with the regime in Delhi and its insensitivity,” he told Arab News.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a separatist leader and member of the JRL, said Rizwan’s death exposed the “helplessness, vulnerability, and insecurity” of Kashmiri lives even as the “impunity of authorities” kept rising.

Kashmir’s former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, tweeted: “I had hoped custodial deaths were a thing of our dark past. This is an unacceptable development and must be investigated in a transparent, time-bound manner. Exemplary punishment must be handed out to the killers of this young man.”