UNITED NATIONS. PRINCE ZEID, U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS HIGH COMMISSIONER

 

1 JULY 2014

PRINCE ZEID, U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS HIGH COMMISSIONER

This year is bringing good fortune to Jordan's seasoned Permanent Representative Zeid Bin Raad Al-Hussein. With the closing of 2013, he was able to get a 2-year Security Council membership for his country after Saudi Arabia left it open. By alphabetical rotation as he took over his seat, it was his turn to start as President of the Council.

By August, Prince Zeid will take over as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Indeed, Prince Zeid is particularly qualified, by temperament, qualifications and experience for that post. He chaired the international effort to establish the International Tribunal in Rome; he served as a political peacekeeper in field missions like Bosnia, where he gained first-hand insight into controversial human rights issues; he was distinguished for outspoken positions beyond his strict designation as Representative of Jordan, whether in Washington, D.C. or New York. He interpreted his assignments creatively with modest confidence and an understated sense of humour while advancing U.N. objectives which are -- in principle -- identical to those of his country.

To be frank, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights post has been eroding in stature and credibility for a while. After Mary Robinson, who made an unprecedented move as the first active Head of State (Ireland) to take a U.N. post, and the terrorist murder of the outstanding Sergio Vieira de Mello, the role of Ms. Navi Pillay in particular seemed to dwindle gradually. After a welcome start as a highly-regarded South African, who was part of the hard long struggle against Apartheid, Ms. Pillay was caught in several issues from Sri Lanka, Darfur Southern Sudan, Mali, Congo, Ukraine, Iraq and Syria -- amongst other human tragedies -- while coping with a politically-structured Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Security Council in New York, and political pressure from powerful Permanent Members with openly conflicting agendas. Despite a solid record as a decent and honourable human rights activist, Ms. Pillay could have done better if she had wider political vision and a sharper political antenna. Besides, she most likely did not maintain the solid support she once had at home. The appointment earlier this year of another South African to succeed Ms. Bachelet as head of U.N. Women practically meant that her mandated time was about to close.

When initial reports were heard in diplomatic corridors that Prince Zeid will be replaced by another Jordanian diplomat (see Insider item from May 2014), there was concern that the Council, not his country alone, would be a loser. Prince Zeid winning the widely coveted post, which is politically sensitive, particularly these days, would help regain its role and -- similarly -- give a seasoned popular diplomat a further delicate challenge to move ahead.