MARCH 1, 2018


Why would the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights announce his determination NOT to renew his assignment six months in advance?

Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, the High Commissioner, a member of Jordan's Royal family, former Ambassador to the U.N. in New York, and experienced peacemaking staffer in the field, wrote in December 2017 about his position in June 2018: "After reflection, I have decided not to seek a second four-year term. 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."

An experienced international diplomat would only do so to make an obvious point. Or to make an indirect rebuke to another senior official. Prince Zeid has been in his post since 2014, appointed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The new Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who had operated as High Commissioner for Refugees, also in Geneva, is certainly familiar with his work. In fact, Secretary General Guterres started including him, via video satellite, in management meetings held at U.N. New York Headquarters. In a statement before indicating his position, Prince Zeid had condemned the authorities in Myanmar for refusing to allow human rights investigation into the publicly reported persecution of the Rohingyas. That by itself would not constitute a basic consideration, unless the High Commissioner strongly feels that certain influential officials -- within the U.N. or in key governments -- were amenably accommodating Aung San Suu Kyi, by shifting position under the pretext of exercising "quiet diplomacy."

In that regard, there were at least two public protests about distracted attention from brutal Myanmar's burning of villages, persecution of remaining Rohingyas, and the over 700,000 migrant refugees in Bangladesh wilderness. Bill Richardson -- former Governor of New Mexico and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. around the same time as Ambassador Zeid -- resigned publicly from a Committee to deal with the issue, announcing that he refused to be "a member of a Cheering Club" for the Myanmar authorities. Similarly, three Nobel Laureate women, who visited the camps, condemned inaction on Rohingya as "Genocide." Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, who herself has difficulties in her own country Iran; Tawakkol Karman, who faces a similar difficulty in Yemen; and Mairead Maguire of Ireland made a point of spending time and meeting women in refugee camps before announcing their international petition. (For details of that visit, see an interview in Inter Press Service.)

Still, there must be more to what could be considered a resignation-rebuke, particularly that this year, on 10 December 2018, a special commemoration will be held at Palais de Chaillot, Paris, on the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights originally announced from that same spot. Why would a prominent U.N. Human Rights' most senior official determine to miss that historic opportunity?

That post was created in 1993 by Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, who appointed Ireland's retiring President Mary Robinson after participating in an eventful Human Rights Day event at U.N. Headquarters on the invitation of then-Head of the Department of Public Information. Mrs. Robinson then took other high-level U.N. positions as the High Commissioner's post seemed to lose its inertia gradually until picked up and revived by Prince Zeid. After he leaves in June, a main question will be the degree and level of U.N. representation at the Chaillot event. Certainly, the President of France will be inviting other heads of state to attend, in addition to the Director General of UNESCO, a French citizen residing in Paris.

But who will represent the U.N.? At what level? With what impact?

Any clear decision...soon?!