UN rights chief refuses to ‘bend knee’, won’t seek reelection in ‘current geopolitical context’

UN rights chief refuses to ‘bend knee’, won’t seek reelection in ‘current geopolitical context’

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will not seek a second term in office given the current state of world affairs and disregard for human dignity.

“After reflection, I have decided not to seek a second four-year term,” Zeid Ra’ad Hussein said in the email addressed to his staff, which was seen by Foreign Policy and AFP. “To do so, in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice – which is your voice.”

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The announcement comes a day after the human rights chief expressed shock over Israel’s use of force against the Palestinians; in a crackdown, the roots of which, “can sadly be traced directly back to the unilateral US announcement on the status of Jerusalem.” Stating that Washington’s decision to move its Israeli capital to Jerusalem was “dangerously provocative,” Hussein added that Trump’s initiative goes against “international consensus.”

It’s not the first time that the UN’s human rights chief has criticized the American leader, who after assuming office, is seen trying to reshape the global political environment, focussing particularly on the Middle East and the Korean peninsula. Even before Trump was elected, Hussein warned that the Republican’s “deeply unsettling and disturbing” point of view “will be dangerous from an international point of view.”

Hussein expressed strong criticism of the US leader in October after listening to Trump’s speech at the United Nations. Trump’s rhetoric at the General assembly, he said, was “one part chauvinistic nationalism, one part balance-of-power swordplay and a crumbling adherence to law.”

“The combination of all of this, in the early part of the 20th century, led to the annihilation of millions of people,” Hussein warned, recalling the “calamity of two world wars and the Holocaust.”

In his letter to his colleagues, Hussein painted a “gloomy assessment of the state of human rights one year after US President Donald Trump came to power,” FP noted. The UN human rights commissioner said America’s new foreign policy disregarded human rights and “reintroduced torture as a tool to extract information.” 

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The FP report also noted, citing diplomatic sources, that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had allegedly “urged Zeid to tone down his critics of Trump, fearing that it could risk losing US support for the United Nations.”

Trump has indeed threatened to cut aid to UN member states who vote against the US at Thursday’s rare emergency UN General Assembly session. “They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.

Hussein said he would focus his final months in office on promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through “mobilization and defiance, pushing back the many trends across the world that seem to negate and deny the value of human rights.”

“There are many months ahead of us: months of struggle, perhaps, and even grief – because although the past year has been arduous for us, it has been appalling for many of the people we serve,” he wrote.

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