Fran Butensky, one of ICJW’s representatives at the UN in New York, attended a meeting at UN HQ with the out-going High Commissioner For Human Rights on May 11, 2018.
This one hour meeting with Zeid Ra’ad Al was his last with the Human Rights Committee in New York because his term as High Commissioner for Human Rights is coming to end. A prince from the Kingdom of Jordan, he was appointed in 2014 and is the sixth High Commissioner to hold this office, and the first Asian, Muslim and Arab to do so. He was very well liked and respected by the committee.
He gave a very honest overview of the accomplishments and issues of his office during his tenure:
• Push to redouble efforts to discuss human rights issue at the Security Council- absorbed and failing system.
• Inherited aftermath of the Arab Spring. He visited Egypt and after visiting Ethiopia, he was encouraged by what he saw there. After a long period of unrest, they are now growing at super levels with students able to speak out and more universality. Fully behind support of the Prime Minister who is working toward an argumentative society.
• Although the picture might be bleak at times, we need to keep working and be ready to jump in anywhere when an opening arises.
• Must keep working to pressure governments.
• People don’t understand the language of Human Rights. There is need to have a clear and general understanding for everyone. Example: lawyers and engineers, etc. speak their own language. We must break ours down and make it accessible to the general public.
• Everyone should be respecting and defending the rights of all the people, speaking on
behalf each other. We need to see more of that within all movements, i.e. LGBT rights, gun control, teachers, student movements, etc.
• Human rights defenders on the ground are being detained and abused and in serious
• The United State and Europe are the sentinels of human rights.
• Good discussion is seriously lacking in the Security Council. They couldn’t even come up with 9 votes on Syria- very disturbing.
• He wonders why all points of view in the UN system can’t work on specific issues such as LGBT rights.
The High Commissioner spoke with surprising honesty and integrity. Speaking of the
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York as depressing, he
wondered what we can focus on to improve. In another surprise comment, he stated that he doesn’t think he will now be welcome back in his own country of Jordan.