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UN human rights chief urges recognition of 'dignity and worth of every human being'

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
UN Photo/Pierre Albouy
High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

UN human rights chief urges recognition of 'dignity and worth of every human being'

The turmoil and crises the international community faces clearly demonstrate the disasters that may occur when human rights are “neglected and ground down,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said today in a wide-ranging address to UN Member States in New York.

Presenting his annual report to the UN General Assembly's Third Committee – the Organization's main body dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural issues – he said the document “lays bare the urgent need for better human rights protection, across every field of human endeavour.”

The world's current challenges would only be solved when States apply the binding human rights commitments to which they have agreed, he continued. “It is by insisting on the dignity and worth of every human being, and securing their rights, that our States, together, will thrive.”

High Commissioner Zeid said that in the report, his Office (OHCHR) had identified priority areas requiring urgent action from every State, had investigated abuses and “called for accountability across a vast range of complex situations.”

“In the past year, humanitarian crises and conflicts have generated the worst human displacement since World War II,” he explained. “We face a crisis of migration governance globally, and in several regions. More effective approaches, grounded in the human rights of the people concerned, are urgently needed.”

He also echoed the words of the Secretary-General, who said last week that “there are not two kinds of people: 'deserving' or 'undeserving' migrants.

“There are only members of our common human family who need protection, assistance and support,” said Mr. Zeid. “Refugees do have special rights under international law – but all migrants must have human rights protection.”

Turning his remarks to the 2030 Agenda, he said that OHCHR had contributed “significant input” to ensure that human rights, including the right to development, were integrated at its heart. He also noted that the implementation of the agenda should be monitored to secure accountability to citizens, and that monitoring should be backed by a human rights framework.

Mr. Zeid also noted that OHCHR has continued to monitor and investigate human rights violations, including an investigation team in Iraq, which was sent there to report on abuses committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other, associated groups.

It also, he continued, deployed a team to investigate violations committed in Libya, as well as to Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, to collect information on human rights abuses committed by Boko Haram and violations perpetrated by State armed forces. He also referred to recent and upcoming OHCHR reports on human rights and related issues in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, South Sudan and Ukraine.

He also noted OHCHR's work with the UN Human Rights Council, which included a dialogue on migrants, as well as the establishment of new special procedures mandates on unilateral coercive measures, the rights of persons with albinism, and the right to privacy.

The High Commissioner then turned his remarks to the subject of organizational change within his Office, noting the opening of a new country office in Burundi as well as a “field-based structure” in Seoul, Republic of Korea. An agreement to open an office in Honduras had been made, offices in Kosovo and Togo were closed, and human rights adviser posts in Ecuador and Honduras had been discontinued.

He spotlighted the “organizational change initiative” for OHCHR that he had first announced in March of this year.

“It capitalizes on our role as the UN's leading reference point and advocate for human rights, and prioritises working directly and through partners to transform the recommendations of the human rights mechanisms into real changes on the ground,” he said, noting that the structural changes, which include eight regional hubs, will establish a better global presence and aid the Office's early warning and prevention capabilities.