A response to Prospect’s August profile of the remarkable UN diplomatby Ken Roth / August 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
Tom Fletcher’s article on the outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, (“UN-diplomatic,” August) raises a disturbing question: why would such a highly effective commissioner never be given a second term?
As the article notes, Zeid tellingly observed that “to be re-elected in my job would be to fail.” It would have required him to pull his punches rather than to speak out wherever serious abuses occurred.
Part of the problem is that, even though the UN General Assembly elects the high commissioner, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council act as if they have an effective veto. And three of the five—Russia, China, and the United States—cannot wait to see Zeid’s back.
Is there a better way? One option would be a single, longer term of service, rather than the current four years, so high commissioners needn’t worry about re-election. But even then, some governments would press for a weak appointment. They misjudged Zeid, and the fear is that this time they’ll insist on a quieter, less confrontational choice.
Even UN Secretary-General António Guterres undoubtedly worries about retaliation if he nominates an outspoken high commissioner. It will be a test of his principles, at a time when autocrats are flourishing and atrocities proliferating, to see whether he proposes a new high commissioner with Zeid’s commitment to the strong, public defence of human rights regardless of the power and protectors of the offender.