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.”


Two thirds of African cities face ‘extreme climate risk’

In this file photo taken on July 7, 2014 children wait in line during a food distribution by the Word Food Programme (WFP) at a school in Bangui. (AFP)
Updated 16 min 54 sec ago
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Two thirds of African cities face ‘extreme climate risk’

  • The data also showed that some of the most populous cities on Earth — including Delhi, Mumbai, Mexico City and Karachi — were all at “high-risk” of damage to their economies and populations

PARIS: Rapid population growth and poor infrastructure have put two out of three cities in Africa at “extreme risk” of the threats posed by climate change, according to a new analysis released Wednesday.
With UN figures showing 86 of the world’s 100 fastest-growing cities are in Africa, experts warned nearly half of the continent’s GDP was exposed to the perils posed by our warming planet.
The findings were laid out in the 2018 Climate Vulnerability Index which calculates an overall risk figure from more than 50 separate data sources, including state-of-the-art climate models, socio-economic factors and demographic trends.
It found Bangui in the Central African Republic, Liberia’s capital Monrovia and the Congolese city of Mbuji-Mayi to be the three most at-risk cities.
Eight African cities featured in the index’s top 10.
“It’s really assessing the ability to withstand climate-related shocks and this is what makes African economies stand out as at risk compared to the rest of the world,” said Niall Smith, an environment analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, which compiled the index.
The British-based risk consultancy also singled out DR Congo’s capital Kinshasa as being of particular concern for investors.
Currently home to 13.2 million people, the city regularly experiences weather events such as cyclones and flooding, which will cause greater disruption as the population swells to 26.7 million by 2035.
“Urban population growth at this projected rate will, without doubt, intensify the city’s alarming risk profile,” they said.
“Africa’s megacities already face issues like lack of clean water, sanitation and shelter.”
The study found that as much as 47 percent of Africa’s GDP — an amount totalling close to $1.4 trillion (1.24 tn euros) — to be at “extreme risk” from climate change by 2023, significantly higher as a percentage than any other continent.
“By no means are we saying don’t invest in these locations,” Richard Hewston, principal climate change and environmental analyst at Verisk told AFP.
“But climate risk should be one of the elements you consider. There’s a huge opportunity for investors and we would say that you need to go in with your eyes open by doing due diligence beforehand.”

The data also showed that some of the most populous cities on Earth — including Delhi, Mumbai, Mexico City and Karachi — were all at “high-risk” of damage to their economies and populations due to climate change.
Scientists in May released the findings of a study suggesting that prompt global action to tackle climate change could save the world economy $20 tn by the end of the century.
But in many nations domestic political concerns still trump climate action.
Hewston gave New York as an example of a city with the technical know-how and political will to invest in climate defenses after it was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“But if you’re looking for other cities, say in Africa, or Dhaka or Mumbai, they also have competing aspects they look to fund so things like climate resilience don’t always top the list,” he said.
Verisk found that British cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast were the three cities best prepared to manage the impact of climate change.