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UN human rights chief to leave after one term

December 21, 2017

Rather than bend "the knee in supplication," UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has told staff he will not seek another term. He has spoken out against both US President Trump and the European Union.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein
Image: Reuters/P. Albouy

Jordanian prince and former diplomat Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein took the unusual step of announcing his decision to serve just one four-year term as the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights. He will leave the post in September.

"After reflection, I have decided not to seek a second four-year term," he wrote in an email to staff on Wednesday. "To do so, in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice — which is your voice."

While UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has spoken in support of al-Hussein, there are doubts about support from the five permanent members of the Security Council. The human rights chief has spoken out against all of them.

Zeid warned of potential genocide in Chinese-backed Myanmar, criticized the Trump administration in the US over its travel ban on people from some Muslim-majority countries, Russia for its actions in Crimeaand called the European Union's policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean inhuman.

"The increasing interventions of the EU and its member states have done nothing so far to reduce the level of abuses suffered by migrants," Zeid said in November. "Our monitoring, in fact, shows a fast deterioration in their situation in Libya."

African migrants at a detention center near Tripoli
African migrants at a detention center near TripoliImage: Getty Images/AFP/T. Jawashi

UN confirmation

Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed Zeid's decision.

"The high commissioner informed the secretary general last week of his intention not to seek another term," Dujarric said. "The high commissioner has always enjoyed the full support of the secretary general."

Zeid said he would spend his final months in office promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document on which the UN's work is based, which marks its 70th anniversary in 2018. He said he would advocate pushing back the "many trends across the world that seem to negate and deny the value of human rights."

"There are many months ahead of us: months of struggle, perhaps, and even grief — because although the past year has been arduous for us, it has been appalling for many of the people we serve," he wrote.

jm/sms (Reuters, AP)