With Sri Lanka on the agenda UNHRC opens its 37th session

With Sri Lanka on the agenda the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) opened its 37th session in Geneva today.

A briefing on Sri Lanka at the session by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been set for March 21.

Speaking on the opening day of the session today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that time and again, he and his office brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action.

“Time and again, there has been minimal action. And given this is my last address as High Commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt. Second to those who are criminally responsible – those who kill and those who maim – the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they – the permanent members – who must answer before the victims,” he said.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that France has shown commendable leadership among the P5 in championing a code of conduct on the use of veto; the United Kingdom has also joined the initiative, now backed by over 115 countries.

He said that it is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto.

“How can it be so hard to grasp that to understand states and societies – their health and ills; why they survive; why they collapse – we must scrutinize at the level of the individual: individual human beings and their rights. After all, the first tear in the fabric of peace often begins with a separation of the first few fibres, the serious violations of the rights of individuals – the denial of economic and social rights, civil and political rights, and most of all, in a persistent denial of freedom,” he said.

The High Commissioner also said that some states view human rights as of secondary value – far less significant than focusing on GDP growth or geopolitics.

“While it is one of the three pillars of the UN, it is simply not treated as the equal of the other two. The size of the budget is telling enough, and the importance accorded to it often seems to be in the form of lip service only.  Many in New York view it condescendingly as that weak, emotional, Geneva-centred, pillar — not serious enough for some of the hardcore realists in the UN Security Council,” he said.

“When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad? Perhaps we have gone mad, when families grieve in too many parts of the world for those lost to brutal terrorism, while others suffer because their loved ones are arrested arbitrarily, tortured or killed at a black site, and were called terrorists for simply having criticized the government; and others await execution for crimes committed when they were children,” he said.

The High Commissioner noted that artificial intelligence will never fully replicate the moral courage, the self-sacrifice and, above all, the love for all human beings that sets human rights defenders apart from everyone else. (Colombo Gazette)

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