United Nations: Human rights under unprecedented pressure worldwide

The "unprecedented pressure" being placed on international human rights standards risks unravelling the unique set of protections that have been set in place after the end of World War II, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said, in the run-up to Human Rights Day on 10 December.

In a UN news release, the UN human rights chief Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein announced that on Human Rights Day, the UN Human Rights Office will launch a campaign entitled "Stand up for someone's rights today."

The High Commissioner underlined that it was within the power of every individual to play a role in pushing back against such pressures.

Noting that many are already doing so, he said that 2016 has been a disastrous year for human rights across the globe, and if the growing erosion of the carefully constructed system of human rights and rule of law continues to gather momentum, ultimately everyone will suffer.

"Many of us are fearful about the way the world is heading," he said. "Extremist movements subject people to horrific violence. Conflicts and deprivation are forcing families from their homes."

"Climate change darkens our horizons. Discrimination, yawning economic disparities and the ruthless desire to gain or maintain power at any cost are the principal drivers of current political and human rights crises. Humane values are under attack - and so many people feel overwhelmed, unsure what to do or where to turn," said the human rights chief.

"Many leaders are failing to grapple effectively and honestly with these complex social and economic issues," Mr Zeid further said.

He pointed out that people are turning in desperation to the siren voices exploiting fears, sowing disinformation and division, and making alluring promises they cannot fulfil.

"But we have learned, through the bitter lessons of history, that humanity will only survive, and thrive, if we seek solutions together."

"Human rights were intended to be, and still are, the antidote to all of this: everyone has rights - economic and social rights, as well as civil and political rights and the right to development -  and it is time to stand up for those rights, not just for yourself but for everyone else."

The High Commissioner urged people everywhere to defend a system that was designed precisely with the aim of making the world a better place for everyone.

"A world where people focus only on the needs of their narrow social, national or religious group, and ignore or attack the equal needs of others, is a world which can very quickly descend into misery and chaos," he cautioned.

"Human rights are the basis of effective policy, in societies where people know they can trust government and rely on the law."

He emphasised that tearing up the laws and institutions that were so painstakingly built up over the last half of the 20th century - designed to protect all individuals, as well as promote stability and economic well-being - is shortsighted and dangerous.

"These are not trifles to be tossed aside for personal or political gain," he said.

Mr Zeid pointed to Syria as "the starkest example of failure across the board."

It was a conflict that was totally avoidable, had President Assad chosen to listen to the voices of those protesting peacefully and legitimately against human rights violations, he said.

"Then, instead of working together to stop the fighting and restore order, individual States stoked the conflict, supported the murderers, provided arms, encouraged extremists - in short, collectively, threw international humanitarian law and human rights law out of the window."

According to the human rights chief, the results of this were the strengthening of Da'esh and other extreme groups, who then stimulated another war and massive abuses - very probably including genocide - in Iraq.

Also, the repeated use of chemical weapons; a vast movement of Syrian refugees, which overran the capacity and goodwill of neighbouring countries, and spilled into Europe - where the suddenness and scale of the influx provoked fears which blended with existing economic strains and anti-foreigner sentiment and led to political upheaval.

Mr Zeid noted that in some parts of Europe, and in the United States, "anti-foreigner rhetoric full of unbridled vitriol and hatred, is proliferating to a frightening degree, and is increasingly unchallenged."

The rhetoric of fascism is no longer confined to a secret underworld of fascists, meeting in ill-lit clubs or on the ‘Deep Net.' It is becoming part of normal daily discourse.

"And that is just one set of problems facing one part of the planet," Mr Zeid said.

He highlighted that in South Sudan, Myanmar and potentially Burundi, "ethnic or religious tensions and violence risk billowing out of control", while in Yemen, "the rules of war with regard to the protection of civilians have routinely been flouted, and the humanitarian crisis is so great children are starving."

In the Philippines, he said, "drug users and dealers are routinely being killed in the streets, with the not-so-tacit encouragement of the authorities."

"Other countries are bringing back the death penalty. Elsewhere civil society organizations are being bullied and banned, human rights and political activists and investigative journalists who try to speak truth to power, or stand up for human rights, are being jailed, or killed. And what are we doing about it?"

"It is time to change course," the High Commissioner underlined.

In this regard, he announced that, on Human Rights Day on 10 December, the UN Human Rights Office will launch a campaign entitled "Stand up for someone's rights today."

"At a time of enormous turmoil and rapid change, the values which uphold peace across the world are too important to be left to international institutions and governments alone," he said.

"It is within the power of every woman, man and child to stand up for respect and tolerance and push back the violence and hatred which threaten our world."

The High Commissioner said in the coming years, the protections provided by international and national human rights laws and systems will be of the utmost importance, not just for those who have yet to fully enjoy them, but also for those who currently take them for granted.

"Ultimately, human rights are for everyone, and everyone will be affected if we do not fight to preserve them. They took decades of tireless effort by countless committed individuals to establish, but - as we have seen all too clearly in recent months - they are fragile. If we do not defend them, we will lose them."

"We don't have to stand by while the haters drive wedges of hostility between communities -we can build bridges. As well as understanding our own rights, we can make a real difference by supporting others," he said.

In the street, in school, at work, in public transport; in the voting booth, on social media, at home and on the sports field, he explained.

"Wherever there is discrimination, we can step forward to help safeguard someone's right to live free from fear and abuse. We can all lobby for better leadership, better laws and greater respect for human dignity."

"The time for this is now," the High Commissioner stressed.

"‘We the peoples' can take a stand for rights. Local actions can add up to a global movement to save the rights that a global movement, composed of countless committed individuals and some inspired leaders, created in the first place," said Mr Zeid.

Concern over Israeli Law to legalise outpost

Meanwhile, also on the eve of Human Rights Day, the UN High Commissioner expressed deep concern over an unprecedented proposed Israeli bill that, if adopted, would allow the retroactive "legalisation" of so-called Israeli outposts constructed on privately-owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

The Bill was approved by the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) at the first of three readings on 7 December.

In a UN news release, the High Commissioner said in enabling the use of land privately-owned by Palestinians for Israeli settlements without the owners' consent, this legislation "would violate international law according to which Israel, as the occupying power, must respect the private property of Palestinians, regardless of whether or not compensation is provided."

Mr Zeid strongly urged Israel's lawmakers to reconsider their support for this bill, "which if enacted, would have far-reaching consequences and would seriously damage the reputation of Israel around the world."

According to the news release, at least 570,000 Israeli settlers live in some 130 settlements and 100 outposts in the West Bank.

According to the human rights chief, all Israeli settlements -- whether outposts built without formal approval but often with the support of the Israeli authorities and which are currently illegal under Israeli law, or settlements approved by Israel -- "are clearly and unequivocally illegal under international law and constitute one of the main obstacles to peace."

"They are also the principal cause of a wide range of human rights violations inside the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem," he said.

The passing of this Bill would have an enormous impact on the landscape of the West Bank, further depriving Palestinians of their land and their livelihoods, and entrenching settlements.

According to NGOs working on these issues, the law would clear the way for potential retroactive legalisation of 55 illegal outposts and approximately 4,000 housing units in settlements and outposts built on over 800 hectares of private Palestinian land.

This would further add to the fragmentation of the Palestinian territory, and consequently would undermine any viable future Palestinian State on that territory.

According to the UN news release, this would be the first time that the Knesset enacts a law with territorial implications for the West Bank, beyond East Jerusalem.

Statements by the Bill's supporters, including members of the Government, cast the Bill as a key step towards the de jure annexation of the land in the West Bank.

"This openly-stated ambition should alarm all those interested in seeing respect for international law, and all those who wish for a lasting peace for all the inhabitants of Israel and Palestine," Mr Zeid said.

By Kanaga Raja.

Source: South-North Development Monitor - SUNS #8374 - Moonday 12 December 2016