Taking stock, UN official delivers ‘mixed report’ on human rights progress worldwide

Torture victims undergo rehabilitation at the African Centre for the Prevention and Resolution of Conflicts, in Senegal. The centre is funded by the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Credit: OHCHR

2 December 2013 – The United Nations human rights chief today delivered a “mixed report” on human rights progress around the world, with slow and steady advances in some areas alongside causes for alarm in others, including Syria and the Central African Republic (CAR).

“As we look around the world at the end of 2013, we see examples of situations where that readiness of the international community to act in time is already being sorely tested,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said during a press conference in Geneva.

“In addition to Syria, where the scale and viciousness of the abuses being perpetuated by elements on both sides almost defies belief, the situation in the Central African Republic is deteriorating rapidly, and the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.”

“Elsewhere, there is much turbulence,” Ms. Pillay said, highlighting the “serious politically-driven instability” in Bangladesh which is claiming a lot of lives in the run up to the election, the “heavy-handed attempts” by successive administrations in Egypt to quell people’s right to peaceful protests, and the current confrontations in Thailand.

Meanwhile, reprisals against civil society organizations, individual human rights defenders and journalists working on rights issues are “extremely worrying” in a number of countries, she said.

The High Commissioner also drew attention to the situation of migrants, who continue to be treated as second-class citizens in many countries, as well as the continuing political exploitation of xenophobia and racism in Europe and other industrialized areas.

“Amidst all this, there is nevertheless progress, sometimes taking place slowly and steadily out of the limelight, sometimes the subject of major policy shifts – including a number of reforms announced over the past two weeks by the Government of China,” Ms. Pillay stated.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and she noted that overall, the UN human rights system is a great deal stronger than it was two decades ago.

At the same time, concerns remain. “The UN human rights institutions, however well they function, are not enough by themselves,” she added.

“The rest of the United Nations – individual Member States, powerful bodies such as the Security Council and the General Assembly, and all the UN’s myriad agencies, funds and programme – need to pull their weight in the common cause of improving human rights for everyone everywhere, in accordance with the UN Charter.”


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