Past year challenging one for human rights, top UN official reports
The past year has been a challenging one for human rights, with the 11 September attacks against the United States having "no doubt" the greatest impact on the work of the United Nations as international attention focused on eradicating the scourge of terrorism, according to the annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The report, the last by former High Commissioner Mary Robinson to the UN General Assembly, stresses that international resolve and cooperation are vital in combating terrorism. Yet there is growing evidence that since 11 September 2001, some States have taken measures that violate their human rights obligations on matters ranging from torture and asylum rights to freedom of expression and privacy.
"What is new after 11 September is the perception in some quarters that human rights transgressions may be overlooked until terrorism is defeated," the report says, noting that some countries, taking advantage of the situation, have adopted severe measures that violate fundamental freedoms and undermine legitimate dissent.
"This is unfortunate and counterproductive, as the best long-term strategy to isolate and defeat terrorism is by respecting human rights, fostering social justice and enhancing democracy," the report says.
The report goes on to describe other aspects of the High Commissioner's work over the past year, including dealing with human rights and conflict, particularly in Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) and fostering national protection systems through the strengthening of human rights institutions in various countries.
Stating that her time as High Commissioner has been "an enormous privilege and at times a daunting challenge," Mrs. Robinson says the major focus over the coming years needs to be on developing and strengthening national protection systems, "because it is at the national and local level that human rights are either protected or violated."