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New UN Rights Chief: Protect Women, Children From IS Threat

  • Lisa Schlein

Newly appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jordan's Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein, right, speaks at the Human Rights Council. With him is Michael Moeller, the U.N. acting director-general, in Geneva, Sept. 8, 2014.

Newly appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jordan's Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein, right, speaks at the Human Rights Council. With him is Michael Moeller, the U.N. acting director-general, in Geneva, Sept. 8, 2014.

The new U.N. Rights Chief is describing the crimes against ethnic and religious groups by the Islamic State militant group as unprecedented barbaric behavior.

His remarks came at the opening of the three-week Rights Council session in Geneva.

In his inaugural speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, lost no time in denouncing the increasingly brutal violations being committed against civilians in conflicts around the world.

Zeid, who comes from Jordan, expressed alarm at the magnitude of the death and destruction reigning in the Middle East and launched a bitter attack against the Islamic State group.

He condemned the recent murder of American journalist James Foley and hundreds of other defenseless victims in Iraq and Syria by this militant group.

Apocalyptic vision

Zeid presented an apocalyptic vision of a world ruled by the militant group, which he referred to as a Takfiri State - that is a state in which a Muslim accused of apostasy or of no longer being a Muslim must be killed.

“It would be a harsh, mean-spirited house of blood where no shade would be offered, nor shelter given to any non-Takfiri in their midst," Zeid said.

"In the Takfiri world, unless your view is identical to theirs, and theirs is extremely narrow and unyielding, you forfeit your right to life. ... There’s no love of neighbor, only annihilation to those Muslims, Christians, Jews and others. Altogether the rest of humanity who believe differently to them," he said.

Zeid recounted a litany of horrors emerging from the escalating conflict in Syria.

He noted more than 190,000 people have been killed and more than half the population, about 9.5 million people, have become refugees or internally displaced since war broke out there in March 2011.

He said the appalling atrocities committed by the group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq could amount to crimes against humanity.

Zeid added that the Islamic State militants and other armed groups in these countries must be held accountable for their crimes. He blamed the corrupt and discriminatory political systems in both Syria and Iraq for the crises unfolding in those countries.

The High Commissioner also called for an end to persistent discrimination and impunity in the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has led to recurring violence and destruction in Gaza.

'Blockade must end'

Zeid said current and future generations of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have a right to live normal lives in dignity without conflict.

"The seven-year blockade must end, and there must be effective accountability for transgressions committed by all parties," he said. "On this point, I also note that Israelis have a right to live free and secure from indiscriminate rocket fire."

Turning to Ukraine, Zeid called for the government and armed groups, as well as neighboring states including Russia, to make every effort to protect civilians in this deplorable conflict.

He also expressed alarm at the ongoing fighting in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. And, like his predecessor, Navi Pillay, he called for an investigation of Sri Lanka's alleged human right violations.

The new U.N. rights chief said he supported moves to establish a code of conduct by the permanent members of the Security Council regarding the use of the veto, and he said the veto should not be used to block action by the U.N. body in cases where well documented atrocities are ongoing.

A ministerial meeting will be held in New York on September 25 to debate this issue.

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