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Outgoing UN Rights Chief Deplores International Indifference to Atrocities

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visits an undisclosed location in South Sudan in this April 2014 photo released by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

FILE - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visits an undisclosed location in South Sudan in this April 2014 photo released by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a stinging rebuke to the international community for remaining indifferent to widespread atrocities committed around the world. In a final speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council before leaving her post, Pillay said politics has too often taken precedence over human rights.

Pillay will have served six years as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights when she steps down on September 1. Throughout her tenure, she has been an outspoken champion of human rights, often risking offending countries by maintaining pressure on governments she deemed culpable of gross, systematic abuse.

She did not soften this approach as she deplored the sad state of human rights around the world in her final speech to the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Regrettably, the international community remains unable to consistently react strongly and quickly to crises, including situations of grave human rights violations with high potential for regional overspill,” she said.

Pillay visited South Sudan in April-a week after the violence and mass slaughter there reached new heights. She said she was shocked by the targeted ethnic attacks and risk of widespread famine, as well as by the seeming indifference of the leaders on both sides of the conflict to this unfolding tragedy.

She expressed similar feelings of outrage and alarm at the inter-communal tensions and widespread violence in the Central African Republic.

She described the relentless violence in Syria as a tragedy for the Syrian people and a tragic failure for the cause of human rights. She said the bombings, widespread loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure in such places as Aleppo should outrage the conscience of humanity. She deplored the willful refusal by Syria's government and some opposition groups to seek a peaceful solution to end the war.

“External powers continue to fuel this violence through the supply of arms, military and other material assistance, as well as inflows of foreign fighters," she said. "It is shocking that war crimes and crimes against humanity have become commonplace and occur with complete impunity. I am disappointed that the Security Council, with 13 votes in favor and 2 opposed, has been unable to reach agreement on action to ensure accountability for such crimes.”

Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed resolutions aimed at referring Syrian officials suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court.

In her speech, Pillay indicated that violations of human rights involve more than just large scale abuses, saying human rights starts and ends with the individual. She poignantly highlighted the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls by the militant Boko Haram in Nigeria.

She cited the so-called "honor killing" in Pakistan of a 23-year-old pregnant woman by her family as another shocking case of violence against women.

As she prepares to step down as U.N. rights chief, Pillay leaves a full agenda of human rights violations for her successor, including the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. She leaves while the U.N. sets up a field office in South Korea to monitor widespread abuses in North Korea.

She leaves as her office prepares a comprehensive investigation into alleged atrocities committed in the waning days of Sri Lanka’s long civil war with the Tamil Tigers, and with Sri Lanka's government vowing once again not to cooperate with the U.N. probe

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