UN Human Rights agency in crisis
His agency is “being asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood,” he said. Global unease about proliferating human rights crises is palpable and the agency is asked to intervene, investigate allegations of abuses and press for accountability.
But the budget allocation for its work is only $87 million in 2014-2015. People in Switzerland spent more than 10 times that amount on chocolate last year.
The agency’s staff is being cut although its mandatory tasks are increasing. They include providing support for the Human Rights Council that has investigated atrocities in North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, Islamic State and many other places. Currently, there are six investigations underway compared with one of two running concurrently prior to 2013.
Critics say the United States and its allies are using the UN Human Rights agency more frequently to humiliate governments that regularly violate human rights. The agency does not have legal power to recommend penalties against those governments but its reports carry significant weight when the US brings cases before the UN Security Council to obtain approval of sanctions or formal condemnations short of punishment.
Some governments like China see the Council as a political tool of the US while Israel detests it as a tool of Arab states to condemn Israeli actions in the occupied territories and Gaza. Many of the Human Rights agency’s programs are funded by voluntary donations outside the regular budget but critics allege that those are politically motivated and designed to bias reports.
Experts appointed by the Human Rights Council are independent from governments and other lobbies but Israel, among others, regularly attacks some as being biased.
Whatever the controversies, it is undeniable that refugee and migratory movements result mostly from human rights violations during conflicts, as well as persecution, discrimination and oppression. The UN Human Rights body is slipping into financial crisis at a time when the number of refugees and displaced persons exploded to over 50 million this year, up from nearly 49 million in 2013.
Hussein identified Ebola and ISIL as “two monumental crises that will inevitably cost us all many billions to overcome”. The ability of Ebola to lay waste to human lives on an immense scale and its potential to devastate the human rights of those who survive — of entire countries and regions – has barely been discussed. “Only a response that is built on respect for human rights will be successful in quashing the epidemic,” he warned.
“Human rights are not an airy ideal. They address epidemics and similar threats to life very directly,” he said. “We must also beware of “us” and “them”, a mentality that locks people into rigid identity groups and reduces all Africans – or all West Africans, or some smaller, national or local group – to a stereotype.”
“Not only is it wrong to dehumanize and stigmatize people; this kind of discourse also drives people who need treatment into hiding, which reduces their chances of recovery and exposes others to risk.”
He called ISIL the “antithesis of human rights. It kills, it tortures, it rapes, and its idea of justice is to commit murder.” Currently, it is the most atrocious violator but human rights also need more protection in Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Palestine, Ukraine, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, North Korea and other countries. Violations are caused by war as well as chronic poverty, lack of food and clogged economic development.
The UN Human Rights agency is still compiling figures for Syria but the death toll is likely to be much higher than the 200,000 so far since hostilities began in March 2011.