Global perspective Human stories

AIDS, hunger, terror threaten world security, top UN human rights body told

AIDS, hunger, terror threaten world security, top UN human rights body told

Sergio Vieira de Mello
World security is threatened not only by the crises currently dominating the headlines but by AIDS, hunger and the "dreams of obscure vengeance" from political terrorists "whose only achievements are the sudden screams of innocent people," the top United Nations human rights official said today.

But in an opening address to the 59th session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, warned that the fight against terrorism could not be allowed to trample on rigorous respect for civil and political liberties.

"We meet today at a time of unusual convulsion in world affairs," Mr. Vieira de Mello said. "The security of our world has been fragile enough; one wonders how much more it will weaken. I am not speaking only of those crises that dominate the headlines. I am thinking, at least as much, of the death that, brought into millions of homes in the form of a terrible virus, has become a constant companion across much of Africa and elsewhere."

The High Commissioner stressed there could be no security without the tools each person needs to live and to improve her life. "Too many people continue to lack even the basics - water, sustenance, elementary education, health services - of a dignified life," he said. "We can never cease pursuing freedom from want, that is, the rights to food and to development, among others. Without them, security will be only a privilege of the powerful, and an endangered privilege at that, because it will be based on the faith that strong borders, mighty deterrence or authoritarian domestic rule bring security. That is a false sense of security, because it is not based on rights."

Referring to "grotesque" political terror, Mr. Vieira de Mello said: "Individuals and organized networks whose politics are blood-red - who feed on dreams of obscure vengeance - whose only achievements are the sudden screams of innocent people - such men and women are sowing terror in our world, and reaping pain. In the most fundamental way, they mock our security."

Warning that the world is living in fearful times and that fear is a bad advisor, he said: "True security must be based on the proven principles of human rights. Some, in fact an increasing number, of states implicitly or explicitly believe that security and a rigorous respect of civil and political liberties are mutually exclusive. But we also have a right to security when faced with the ambitions of states, whether our own or others. We cannot compromise our hard-won human rights to give states a free hand in fighting terrorism.

On the Palestinian-Israel conflict, Mr. Vieira de Mello said his proposal to visit the region had been well received and he hoped to carry it out in the near future. "There can be no security without real peace, and peace must be built on the firm foundation of human rights," he said.