Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The U.N. Human Rights Council began a three-week session Monday amid reports of widespread human rights violations around the world and escalating threats against human rights defenders.  

The new session of the rights council takes place against the backdrop of immense human suffering caused by devastating floods in Pakistan, violence and conflict in places, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia and indiscriminate killings of civilians.

In her speech to the Council, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, drew attention to the vital role played by human rights defenders in exposing abuse around the world.  These people, she said, as well as journalists and civil society activists in all regions face threats to their lives and security because of their work.

"Peaceful dissidents, human rights advocates, lawyers, and press representatives have been targeted and violently attacked in countries, including in Iran, Iraq, and Somalia." said Pillay.  "Difficult conditions, including threats and assaults that put in jeopardy human rights workers, journalists, trade unionists and community organizers are often compounded by competition over natural resources, as is the case in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe."

Pillay urged the Human Rights Council and the international community to support and protect human rights defenders. She spoke with horror of the killings by criminal gangs of 72 migrants from Mexico.  Pillay also expressed concern about reports of a program by the United States of targeted killings of suspected terrorists.   In Kyrgyzstan, Pillay descried the overall human rights situation, the result of ongoing tensions between the country's Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic communities.

But Pillay reserved her harshest criticisms for, what she calls, the new policies of France towards the Roma, including the dismantling of their settlements and collective expulsion to their country of origin.

"Such measures can only exacerbate the stigmatization of Roma and the extreme poverty and exclusion in which they live," she said. "The often stereotyping and discriminatory rhetoric by officials and by the media when referring to the Roma in Europe is also an issue of grave concern."  

Pillay noted that France's behavior toward the Roma is currently under scrutiny by the European Commission and the European Parliament.  She called on European States, including France, to adopt policies to overcome their marginalization.