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.”


UK court rejects case brought by mother of Daesh 'Beatle' held in Syria

Updated 28 min 16 sec ago
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UK court rejects case brought by mother of Daesh 'Beatle' held in Syria

  • El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are being held by Kurdish militia after being captured in Syria last year
  • United States wants to extradite them and Britain has said it will not stand in the way

LONDON: The mother of one of the British Daesh militants suspected of murdering western hostages, lost a legal challenge on Friday that it was wrong for Britain to assist a US investigation which could lead to them facing the death penalty.
Britons El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey — two of a notorious group of British fighters nicknamed “The Beatles” — are being held by Kurdish militia after being captured in Syria last year.
The United States wants to extradite them and Britain has said it will not stand in the way of any future US prosecution that would seek the death penalty, waiving a long-standing objection to executions.
Elsheikh’s mother, Maha El Gizouli, had sought a judicial review, saying it was unlawful for Britain’s interior minister to provide mutual legal assistance in a case which could lead to prosecutions for offenses which carried the death penalty.
Her lawyers said the minister’s actions were flawed, inconsistent with Britain’s unequivocal opposition to the death penalty and violated her son’s human rights. However, London’s High Court disagreed and dismissed her claim.
“My priority has always been to ensure we deliver justice for the victims’ families and that the individuals suspected of these sickening crimes face prosecution as quickly as possible,” Home Secretary Sajid Javid said.
“Our long-standing opposition to the death penalty has not changed. Any evidence shared with the US in this case must be for the express purpose of progressing a federal prosecution.”
The most notorious of the four of the so-called Beatles was Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” who is believed to have been killed in a US-British missile strike in 2015.
He became a public face of Daesh and appeared in videos showing the murders of US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and other hostages.
“This group of terrorists is associated with some of the most barbaric crimes committed during the conflict in Syria,” Graeme Biggar, Director of National Security at Britain’s interior ministry, said in a written statement to the court.
Britain has said it does not want the men repatriated to the United Kingdom and their British citizenship has been withdrawn.
British prosecutors concluded they did not have the evidence to launch their own case against the men but US officials then expressed frustration with the British stance of seeking an assurance that US prosecutors would not call for the death penalty, court documents showed.
However, last June, British ministers and senior officials decided the best way of ensuring a prosecution and to protect US relations was to seek no such assurance in this case.
That decision provoked criticism from opposition lawmakers and from some in the government’s own party who accused ministers of secretly abandoning Britain’s opposition to the death penalty.