To combat the kind of mind set that led to the Holocaust, as well as to current atrocities by terrorist groups like Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, (ISIL) and Boko Haram, there must be a change in how we view human rights, said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
Speaking at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, Zeid, who is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for an elimination of rationalisations for violating human rights, such as the notion that special circumstances justify exceptions to human rights principles.
“States must be willing to protect the human rights of their people, and people must be able to hold the State responsible,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “This is the core mission of my Office and the UN.”
Zeid noted that he was deeply moved to be the first Arab and Muslim High Commissioner to visit the Museum, although he had already been there in his personal capacity. His speech came one week after commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp.
In his speech, Zeid pointed out that in the years after the Holocaust, specific treaties were cemented into law with obligations to protect human rights. But now it seems many countries and groups ignore these rules. He cited the almost daily atrocities committed by extremist groups as an example of the continuing battle against terror and fear, buoyed ideas of the supremacy of beliefs. But beliefs can be changed with the right encouragement, he said.
“What we need so badly is a profound and inspiring leadership across the globe,” he said. “A leadership that is concerned more about reputation based on inalienable human rights and fundamental freedoms of their people, and all others are defended and promoted.”
Zeid called for much more work to prevent atrocities – work that he said could only be effective if it was grounded in human rights principles. Before the age of nine, every child should acquire the fundamental understanding of human rights, he said. The values underlying this curriculum would be virtually identical in every school and derive from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – one of the most accepted treaties in the globe. Zeid also suggested a rethink of education, for greater empathy and human understanding.
“When humanity topples on the cusp of real and vicious self-destruction, we don’t necessarily need people who are only smart,” he said. “We need people who are kind. People with PhD-level compassion.”
Zeid’s speech was part of his official visit to the United States. It is the first official visit of a high commissioner to the country since 2007.
6 February 2015