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Man runs with an injured boy in the besieged eastern Ghouta town of Hamouriyeh
Image: Reuters/B. Khabieh

UN human rights chief warns of 'apocalypse' in Syria

Chase Winter
March 7, 2018

From Syria to Yemen and the US, the UN human rights body has delivered a scathing annual report on violations and threats to rights around the globe. Syria and Myanmar have some of the worst conditions.


UN human rights chief: 'catastrophic course' in Syria

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, painted a bleak picture of human rights violations in more than 50 countries in his annual report delivered on Wednesday.

From "apocalypse" in Syria and "ethnic cleansing" in Myanmar, to the rising tide of right-wing politics in Europe and anti-migrant policies in the United States, no stone was left unturned by the UN human rights chief, who is not known for mincing words.

Key points of the address

In his speech to the UN Human Rights Council, Zeid:

  • Highlighted violence against civilians in Syria.
  • Expressed concern about rising hatred and xenophobia in Europe.
  • Criticized the United States' anti-migrant clampdown.
  • Warned crimes against humanity may be committed in Venezuela.
  • Described Myanmar's military operations against Rohingya as possible "acts of genocide."


Escalating violence across Syria threatens millions of civilians. Of particular concern is the ongoing regime offensive in eastern Ghouta and Idlib province, as well as the Turkish military operation against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Beyond the latest hotspots, Zeid said that somewhere else soon civilians will face "an apocalypse intended, planned and executed by individuals within the government with apparent full foreign backing," a reference to Iran and Russia.

On eastern Ghouta, Zeid called the regime and Russian justification to indiscriminately bomb heavily populated civilian areas to fight a few hundred fighters "legally, and morally, unsustainable."

"When you are prepared to kill your own people so easily, lying is easy too. Claims by the government of Syria that it is taking every measure to protect its civilian population are frankly ridiculous," he said.


Echoing previous statements, Zeid warned of a "continuation of ethnic cleansing in Rakine state" where the Myanmar military has expelled hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, burned villages and killed thousands.

Myanmar may be committing "acts of genocide," he said.

There is also a "deliberate attempt by the authorities to destroy evidence of potential international crimes, including possible crimes against humanity."

Nobel laureates decry Rohingya 'genocide'


More than two-thirds of national parliaments in EU countries include parties with extreme positions on migrants, Muslims and other minorities.  In particular, Zeid singled out right-wing parties in Italy, Austria, Hungary and Poland.

Zeid said: "This discourse based on racism, xenophobia and incitement to hatred has now expanded so significantly that in several countries it is dominating the political landscape."

In Poland, the ruling PiS government’s reforms of the judicial system and other moves have "severely weakened checks and balances" and strengthened control over media, civil society and public life. The government also "frequently takes a passive approach to the growing number of hate crimes and incidents of hate speech against minority communities and migrants."

In Hungary, Zeid said he was "shocked at the contempt for migrants, and more broadly for human rights, expressed by senior government officials."

Read more: Hungary's Orban threatens pro-refugee NGOs, slams Muslim migration

Separately, the UN criticized the EU’s "overriding focus" on preventing migrants from reaching Europe, and in some cases deporting them back to their home or third-countries.

In particular, "the EU and its members need to review the approach they are taking in the Mediterranean, to ensure that they are not indirectly supporting the return of migrants to Libya, where they face a real risk of torture, sexual violence and other serious violations," Zeid said.

Read more: Frontex launches new EU border control mission Operation Themis

Fraud in EU-funded projects in Hungary


Democratic institutions and human rights have been eroded in Venezuela, where basic goods are lacking and hundreds of thousands have fled the country.  

The government has taken powers from parliament and clamped down on the opposition. "Freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly are being repressed and severely restricted," Zeid said.

There is also the "possibility that crimes against humanity have been committed."

Venezuelans flee to Columbia

United States

Under US President Donald Trump, the detention and deportation of migrants, including children, has increased.

Zeid said: "Detentions and deportations of long-standing and law-abiding migrants have sharply increased, tearing families apart and creating enormous hardship."

Read more: Why Donald Trump's immigration deal is a hard sell

"I deplore the continuing uncertainty about beneficiaries of the DACA program," he added.

He also expressed concern that migrants and children intercepted along the southern border with Mexico are being detained in "abusive conditions."

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