The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has announced that he will step down at the end of August.
He claims he does not want to serve “in the current geopolitical context” lest his role “involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of (his) voice.” Noble as though such rhetoric may sound, there is such a thing as making a virtue out of a necessity, for Zeid has every incentive to deflect attention away from his own less than stellar record.
He clearly does not feel strongly enough about this current geopolitical climate to tender his resignation now, but is quite happy to retain the prestige for as long as he can. To resign on a point of principle might show integrity, but it is certainly not the practice in the UN.
Zeid’s arrogance has also irritated a number of Member States, using his position for posturing and being critical of a number of world leaders – not least of which has been President Trump – and he has become an embarrassment to Secretary-General Guterres (if he was not already one) and an embarrassment to the King of Jordan.
He began his term as High Commissioner for Human Rights by resorting to the tactics of the dictator; trying to find cause to dismiss Anders Kompass – one of his senior officials for “leaking confidential information.”
Unsatisfied with Kompass then being cleared of any wrongdoing by an official investigation, Zeid set out to find another reason to have him investigated – and in doing so, sparked the biggest sexual abuse scandal the UN has had to face in many years.
When presented with evidence of the ongoing sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic, Zeid’s priority was not to stop it, or to attend to the welfare of the victims; it was to use it as the excuse to have Kompass investigated again, for “leaking confidential information”.
It clearly never occurred to either him or the other senior figures involved in that lynching that liaising with member states and stopping the sexual abuse of children might actually be within the scope of Kompass’s employment, or indeed pause to consider how their actions might appear to the outside world should the facts be reported in the media.
Kompass simply did his job, only to be demonised by Zeid for doing so, but the story was made public thanks to the courageous actions of one of the very few Jewish officials in the UN. Miranda Brown revealed the perversity of the UN’s priorities and the quite astonishing lack of judgement of Zeid and his colleagues in Ban Ki Moon’s inner circle; bringing a firestorm of disapproval down on the Organization.
Had Zeid tendered his resignation at that point, it might have shown some remorse, some compassion and some accountability, but he refused to take any responsibility for anything. Such gestures are not the practice in the UN.
Kompass was cleared of any wrongdoing, but later resigned in disgust anyway. He clearly had some standards, and some self-respect. Zeid, on the other hand, had the prestige of being the High Commissioner.
While he was happy to bask in the glory of that title, he was less diligent in acting as a role model in upholding human rights. His office provided the Chinese Government with the names of Chinese human rights activists who would be attending meetings in Geneva; where they could jeopardise China’s efforts to gain membership of the Human Rights Council.
One of Zeid’s staff was a Human Rights Officer named Emma Reilly. As a UN staff member, she was under an obligation to report what she believed to be misconduct and she had believed that handing over the names of human rights activists was not what the UN should be doing.
Some time later, Ms. Cao Shunli, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, who was detained at the airport in Beijing when she was leaving for Geneva, and subsequently died in police custody.
A clearer example of ‘muting a statement of advocacy’ would be hard to find, yet Zeid’s office and remained strangely quiet on the matter. Some victims of human rights abuses merit loud public support, but when their invitation had lead to the death of a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer; they had nothing to say.
Zeid’s priority was to ensure that China was admitted to the Human Rights Council. Cao Shunli dedicated her professional life to defending human rights; and in the end she died for having done so, and Emma Reilly’s career was little more than a bump in the road under the juggernaut’s wheels.
To penalise his own staff for doing their job is hardly a sign of great leadership, or the behaviour one would expect from a genuine champion of human rights, but the UN’s treatment of Emma Reilly is (lest Zeid need an example) what “lessening the independence and integrity of (her) voice” actually looks like in practice.
Zeid denied that Emma Reilly had suffered any retaliation at all, so I offered to donate US$10,000 to any Human Rights charity of his choosing – if she would publicly confirm not having suffered any reprisals.
It was easy money, and it would have totally discredited me – if the High Commissioner had been willing to put my money where his mouth was……
Zeid’s legacy will forever be that it never occurred to him that vulnerable children might have a right not to be sexually abused – though as a reflection of the senior leadership of the UN, that is testimony to the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the Organization as a whole.
That he insists on serving out the rest of his term is indicative more of a self-serving motive than one of public service – but the concept of a prince as a public servant was not one that appears to have embraced.
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