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UN Official: International Human Rights Law Grossly Violated

FILE - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein addresses the media in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 9, 2016.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warns that international human rights laws aimed at safeguarding the rights and dignity of human life, are increasingly being violated by states for short-term gain. Speaking at the opening of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 31st session in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said the perceived threats of terrorism and extremism are undermining fundamental principles of human rights.

Al-Hussein calls the piecemeal dismantling of the international system of human rights law deeply alarming. He says this body of law, which was set up to ward off global threats, is being grossly violated by many states which pick and choose those parts that suit their political agendas.

He says an increasing number of nations are reacting to the rise of violent extremism, the growing number of armed conflicts and mass exodus of people fleeing for safety by disregarding basic human rights principles.

“Many leaders are pandering to a simplistic nationalism, which mirrors the simplified and destructive ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mind-set of the extremists, and fans a rising wind of prejudice and fear,” said Al-Hussein.

The High Commissioner says both international human rights and international humanitarian laws are being shockingly violated with complete impunity in multiple conflicts. He highlights the five-year civil war in Syria where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, hospitals and medical personnel purposely targeted and where starvation is being used as a deliberate, and forbidden weapon of war.

Syrian children walk between destroyed buildings in the old city of Homs, Syria, Feb. 26, 2016.
Syrian children walk between destroyed buildings in the old city of Homs, Syria, Feb. 26, 2016.

He notes Syria is far from the only armed conflict where civilians are enduring frightful attacks. He names Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen as a few of the many other conflicts where attacks against civilians have become the norm.

“Survivors, particularly the most vulnerable, are forced to flee, and become exposed to further violations…To keep building higher walls against the flight of these desperate people is an act of cruelty and a delusion," he said.

Though not mentioning them by name, High Commissioner Al-Hussein criticizes the growing number of European countries that are adopting restrictive policies against Syrian and other asylum seekers.

He notes that after World War ll nations opened their doors to millions of displaced people. But today he says, instead of repeating this positive move, states are treating those fleeing conflict and persecution with hostility, disarray, and xenophobia.