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The Multilateralist

The world according to the UN human rights chief

In Geneva today, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, surveyed the world’s human rights landscape. She addressed specific developments in several dozen countries, with Syria getting the most extended treatment. She criticized both government and rebel forces for their violations of international law, which she said may constitute war crimes and crimes against ...

In Geneva today, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, surveyed the world’s human rights landscape. She addressed specific developments in several dozen countries, with Syria getting the most extended treatment. She criticized both government and rebel forces for their violations of international law, which she said may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.  

Pillay, a South African national and former International Criminal Court judge, also expressed concern about recent developments in Mali, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Pakistan. She had this to say about Palestine:

The situation in the occupied Palestinian territory continues to merit close attention. I remain concerned about the conditions of over four thousand Palestinians detained by Israel. Israel’s practice of administratively detaining Palestinians is especially troubling. I join the Secretary-General in calling on Israel to charge, bring to trial or release such detainees without delay. Israel’s continuous expansion of its settlements as well as violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians is also a matter of concern. On the Palestinian side, I again condemn the firing of indiscriminate rockets from Gaza and urge an end to arbitrary detention by Palestinian security forces and of ill-treatment in detention centres in Gaza and the West Bank.

Western countries took some fire as well. Pillay upbraided France for its recent deportations of Roma and Greece for a pattern of xenophobic attacks on immigrants. She warned Europe as a whole not to curtail rights as it reduced public spending. "Mounting social tensions in countries especially affected by the economic crisis show the dangers which can be associated with curtailing economic, social and cultural rights," she said.  "It is thus critical that cuts in public spending do not negatively impact the enjoyment of human rights, and the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable."

The United States and China came in for explicit criticism only for their continued use of the death penalty (Pillay  said not a word about U.S. drone strikes or detention policy and nothing about China’s broader human rights record). The death penalty was itself a major focus of Pillay’s remarks. She cited the growing number of states that have either formally or effectively abolished the penalty (150, she claimed) and urged the world’s remaining states to do the same. 

This 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council runs through September 28.

 Twitter: @multilateralist

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