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Statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, 29 February 2016

Distinguished Presidents of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly – and President Lykketoft, we are delighted and honoured to see you with us this morning


Colleagues, Friends,


I am honoured to address this Council on the eve of its second decade. This is an anniversary that calls for more than rhetoric: it cries out for action, and decisive and cooperative leadership in defence of vital principles.


Human rights violations are like a signal, the sharp zig-zag lines of a seismograph flashing out warnings of a coming earthquake.  Today, these jagged red lines are shuddering faster and higher.  They signal increasing, and severe, violations of fundamental rights and principles. These shocks are being generated by poor decisions, unprincipled and often criminal actions, and narrow, short-term, over-simplified approaches to complex questions. All now crushing the hopes and lives of countless people. So the compression begins, once again.  This resurgent broad-based malice, irresponsibility and sometimes eye-watering stupidity, altogether acting like steam at high pressure being fed into the closed chamber of world events.  And unless it is released gradually and soon, through wiser policy making – where the interests of all humans override this strengthening pursuit of the narrowest, purely national, or ideological, agenda.  Otherwise - as the reading of human history informs us – its release, when it comes, will be as a colossus of violence and death. 


Mr. President,

When the key drafters, representing States, wrote the UN Charter and drew up the protective fortress of treaties and laws making up our international system, they did not do so because they were idealists only. They did it for security, and because they were pragmatists.  They had experienced global warfare, dispossession and the oppression of imperialism. They had lived “balance-of-power” politics, and its consequences – thrown violently into imbalance as it was by the feral nationalisms and ideologies of the extreme left and right. They knew, from bitter experience, human rights, the respect for them, the defence of them, would not menace national security – but build more durable nations, and contribute (in their words) to “a final peace”. And so, after the cataclysm of global war and the development of nuclear weapons, they created the UN, and wrote international laws, to ward off those threats. 



Today we meet against a backdrop of accumulating departures from that body of institutions and laws which States built to codify their behaviour. Gross violations of international human rights law – which clearly will lead to disastrous outcomes – are being greeted with indifference. More and more States appear to believe that the legal architecture of the international system is a menu from which they can pick and choose – trashing what appears to be inconvenient in the short term.


This piecemeal dismantling of a system of law and values that States themselves set up to ward off global threats is deeply alarming. Instead of taking a reasoned and cooperative approach to settling challenges – including the rise of violent extremism, the growing number of armed conflicts, and the movement of people seeking safety – 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. This bid to find unilateral quick fixes for issues that have broad roots is not only unprincipled, it is illusory – and it contributes to great suffering and escalating disarray.


Mr President,

The protection of human life and dignity is crucial at all times. Warfare does not put a stop to these and other fundamental obligations of international human rights law. During armed conflict or occupation, a complementary body of law – international humanitarian law – provides additional protection, to safeguard the rights of those fighting, as well as civilians, the sick and wounded, and people who have laid down their weapons. It must be applied by all parties: States – including all foreign forces, in the case of external intervention – and non-State armed groups. 



These two great bodies of law are being violated shockingly, in multiple conflicts, with complete impunity. In Syria, previous to the temporary cessation of hostilities which began last weekend, this has been the case for five long years. Neighbourhoods, schools, and packed marketplaces have been hit by tens of thousands of airstrikes. Thousands of barrel bombs have been thrown out of helicopters onto streets and homes. Mortar and artillery fire, and IEDs, have been used without regard for civilian life.


Hospitals, medical units and healthcare personnel are afforded special protection under international humanitarian law. But at least ten hospitals and other medical units have been damaged or destroyed in Syria since the beginning of January -– more than one every week – and on several occasions a second strike has hit rescue operations. The repetition of these murderous attacks suggests that some parties to the conflict are targeting medical units deliberately, or with reckless disregard. They deprive huge numbers of people, many already suffering the effects of intense bombardment, of their right to health, and endanger their right to life.


Similarly, the deliberate starvation of people is unequivocally forbidden as a weapon of warfare. By extension, so are sieges, which deprive civilians of essential goods such as food. And yet over 450,000 people are currently trapped in besieged towns and villages in Syria – and have been, in some cases, for years. Food, medicine and other desperately-needed humanitarian aid is repeatedly obstructed. Thousands risk starving to death.


And yet Syria is far from the only armed conflict in which civilians have endured frightful attacks. Multiple medical facilities, religious sites and schools have been repeatedly attacked and bombed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen. Mindful as we all are of the attack against the Khaleq market in Nahem which left scores of civilians dead only two days ago. The damage done by these violations – in bloodshed, and needless suffering and deaths from treatable illnesses and wounds – is dreadful.  I add my voice to that of the distinguished President of Médecins Sans Frontières: the normalization of such attacks is intolerable.

然而,叙利亚冲突远不是唯一一场有平民遭受可怕攻击的武装冲突。在阿富汗、伊拉克、利比亚、南苏丹和也门,众多医疗设施、宗教场所和学校多次遭到袭击和轰炸。我们都注意到仅仅两天之前纳赫姆(Nahem)喀勒克(Khaleq)集市受到的袭击,事故导致数十名平民死亡。这些侵犯造成的破坏——流血、不必要的痛苦以及本可治愈的疾病和伤势造成的死亡——十分可怕。我要和尊敬的无国界医生组织(Médecins Sans Frontières)主席一同呼吁:这种袭击的常态化是不可容忍的。

It is extremely alarming that so many conflicts, crises and humanitarian emergencies are currently raging, with repeated violations of the norms that protect people's rights and lives. In Afghanistan, Burundi, the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo; the countries around Lake Chad which have suffered the attacks of Boko Haram; in Iraq; Libya; Mali; the Occupied Palestinian Territory; Somalia; South Sudan; Sudan; Syria; Ukraine and Yemen, millions of lives are threatened, and millions of homes are destroyed. Survivors, particularly the most vulnerable, are forced to flee, and become exposed to further violations. Economies are being broken. Health systems and infrastructure are being destroyed. Children go hungry, unschooled, and many suffer multiple forms of violence.

极其令人警惕的是,那么多的冲突、危机和人道主义紧急状况目前愈演愈烈,其中多次违反了保护人民权利和生命的准则。在阿富汗、布隆迪和刚果民主共和国东部;遭受博科圣地(Boko Haram)袭击的乍得湖周边国家;在伊拉克;利比亚;马里;巴勒斯坦被占领土;索马里;南苏丹;苏丹;叙利亚;乌克兰和也门,数百万人的生命受到威胁,数百万家庭被摧毁。幸存者,尤其是最脆弱的幸存者,被迫逃亡,暴露在进一步的侵犯面前。经济正在被打乱。卫生制度和基础设施正在受到破坏。儿童挨饿,无法入学,许多人受到多重形式的暴力。

The effects of these prolonged conflicts and emergencies will be endured for generations. And yet they continue – and even cease, apparently, to shock. 


Whether they are the result of deliberate targeting or systemic incompetence, every single attack on civilians and protected civilian objects must be fully, transparently and independently investigated.


Mr President,

Conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere have unleashed a toxic brew of malevolent forces, including the commission of sickening crimes and atrocities, and the emergence of human trafficking gangs. These are the circumstances that migrants are increasingly fleeing. The trauma they have suffered is appalling; they deserve the international community's sympathy and compassion. To keep building higher walls against the flight of these desperate people is an act of cruelty and a delusion.  

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