In a period of ‘profound uncertainty,’ stand up for human rights

Urging action for greater freedoms, stronger respect and more compassion, the United Nations human rights arm today launched a $253 million appeal – its largest to date – to bolster its 2017 work programme to protect and advance the rights of people around the world.

“In numerous countries, even the rules are under attack – xenophobia and calls for racial and religious discrimination have entered mainstream discourse and every day, seemingly, are more widespread and more deeply rooted,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a news release issued by his office (OHCHR) announcing the appeal.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

“More and more people are suddenly realizing we can no longer afford to be complacent about human rights, and that the erosion of other people’s human rights will sooner or later lead to the erosion of our own.”

According to OHCHR, the extra-budgetary funds will augment its work in providing in-country assistance, supporting UN independent rights experts and the Human Rights Council, as well as contribute to a number of trust funds on issues such as torture, rights of indigenous peoples and contemporary forms of slavery.

Erosion of other people’s human rights will sooner or later lead to the erosion of our own

“Through human rights advocacy, advice on laws and constitutions, training of State authorities as well as of non-governmental organizations, fact-finding and hard-hitting investigations that lay the groundwork for accountability and amplify the voices of victims of human rights violations – through these and other means, [OHCHR] helps in the push for better human rights protections for all,” said High Commissioner Zeid.

The Office has some 60 field presences in different locations around the globe. These include country, regional and stand-alone offices, human rights advisers, and human rights components of UN missions.

However, it struggles with “dramatic and chronic” underfunding.

“More than ever, we need strong partners to stand with us […] We need to broaden our financial support base to include more Member States, and encourage participation from a much broader range of private donors,” said Mr. Zeid, calling for their support to help prevent human rights crisis from escalating as well as contributing to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“We can advocate a broad, open democratic space and impartial rule of law institutions in every country […] we can push back against the current assaults on values, and act swiftly to uphold the human rights laws and principles we fought so hard to build,” he highlighted, adding:

“The time to stand up for human rights is now. We are counting on your support.”

The High Commissioner will be in Washington tomorrow, February 16, for a public event at the US Institute of Peace.

US should lift measure suspending refugee resettlement, says UN chief

US should lift measure suspending refugee resettlement, says UN chief Guterres

Reacting to the recent suspension by the United States of its longstanding refugee program, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today said resettlement is often “the only possible solution” for people fleeing conflict and persecution, and that the US policy, which bars entry of Syrians into the country, “should be removed sooner rather than later.”

Asked about the impact of the Executive Order signed by President Donald Trump on 27 January, that, among things, halts the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, bars entry of refugees from seven mostly Muslim countries for 90 days and suspends entry of Syrians until further notice, the UN chief said resettlement is “a must […] and the United States has always been at the forefront of refugee protection. Syrians are those that at present have the most dramatic needs.”

Mr. Guterres, speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters, emphasized: “In my opinion, the US policy is not the way […] to best protect the US or any other country, in relation to the serious concerns that exist about the possibility of terrorist infiltration. I don’t think this is the effective way to do so and I think these measures should be removed sooner rather than later.”

Noting that the measures “violate our basic principles,” he said they are not effective if the objective is to avoid terrorist entering the US.

“We are dealing with very sophisticated global terrorist organizations. If a global terrorist organization [tried] to attack a country like the United States, they will probably not come with people with passports from those countries that are hotspots of conflict today,” said the UN chief, adding that they might come with passports from the most developed in the world, or they might use people that have been for decades sometimes inside the countries.

“And that is why it is so important not to have measures that spread anxiety and anger, because when we adopt measures that spread anxiety and anger, we help trigger the kind of recruitment mechanisms that these organizations are now doing everywhere in the world,” Mr. Guterres said, noting that the UN has been pushing for the capacity to have very strong measures in relation to management of borders but, at the same time, not to base them on any discrimination linked to nationality, religion or ethnicity.

Responding to another question on the overall policy of the new US Administration, which one reporter suggested seemed at odds with the goals of the UN, Mr. Guterres stated: “[A]ll complicated things have an easy answer, and the answer is to be firm in assessing all principles and open in engaging in constructive dialogue. That is the combination that I will try to make effective in the way we deal with US Administration or in the way we deal with any other administration in the world.”

US Resettlement Process

US Resettlement Process

Words Matter: Reflections on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Words Matter: Reflections on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Last Friday, I had the honor to participate in the Commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day at America’s most powerful monument to this most horrific period of history – the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Museum, which sits near the National Mall among the most well-known symbols of our nation’s history, should be on every American’s list of must-see memorials. The history told within its walls, and the personal stories of those who survived and those who perished, must be understood by us all.

Holocaust survivor Josiane Traum talks about her experience during the Holocaust. (Photo: US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Holocaust survivor Josiane Traum talks about her experience during the Holocaust. (Photo: US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

At the ceremony, I sat with Holocaust survivors, their families, diplomats from around the world, and individuals who traveled from near and far. Following eloquent speeches by the Israeli and Swedish Ambassadors to the United States we watched as Holocaust survivor Josiane Traum moved to the lectern. Barely reaching the height of the microphone and speaking without any notes, Ms. Traum’s story of survival transfixed each of us in attendance. She spoke of her family who had to make impossible decisions that saved her life; of the nuns that sheltered her and risked their own lives; of the family in Brussels that took her in when she had nowhere to turn; and of the neighbors that helped – and those who didn’t. Ms. Traum survived, millions of other Jews did not.

Photos from Holocaust Remembrance Day

Holocaust Remembrance Day

UNIC Washington took part in the International Holocaust Remembrance Day Commemoration at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on January 27, 2017.

We must never forget her story, or the individual memories of so many other survivors. We must also never forget that words matter. Words, like those in her story, can move us. Others can be dangerous. This is evident in the startling exhibition “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda” on which the Museum has partnered with the United Nations. This exhibit, which will be shown around the world including at UN Headquarters in NY, shows us the Nazi use of images and words to pave Hitler’s rise to power and then “create a climate of indifference to the elimination of Jews and others viewed as undesirable by the Nazis.” It demonstrates that by twisting meaning and pointing fingers, false narratives can be created that stir emotions and move people to action, even in the face of all evidence.

While the Nazis used posters, rallies, newspapers and radio, today we have added social media, 24-hour news cycles, and the ability of any organization or any individual to create their own news, with their own choice of words. For us to truly make “never again” mean “never again”, we must seek the truth behind images and words, and protect and defend those being falsely accused or blamed.

A visit to the Nazi Propaganda exhibit at the UN, or, better yet, to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, is a chilling reminder of what can happen when we don’t.

– Robb Skinner, Director, United Nations Information Center

Interview with Robb Skinner



Video of the Ceremony

UN releases $100 million to sustain relief operations in world’s most neglected crises

UN releases $100 million to sustain relief operations in world’s most neglected crises

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today released $100 million from the organization’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to sustain operations in nine “neglected crises” where levels of vulnerability are alarmingly high but funding remains critically low.

UN releases $100 million to sustain relief operations

The allocation will enable life-saving help for more than 6 million people in Cameroon, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia and Uganda.

“CERF is a lifeline for people caught up in crises that don’t make the headlines but where needs are just as urgent,” said Mr. Guterres in a news release.

“This funding is crucial so that the UN and partners can continue assisting people who need our help so desperately,” he added.

According to the news release, a large portion of the allocation will reach people affected by displacement – one of the most pressing humanitarian challenges in today’s world where more than 65 million people are displaced.

The funding will ensure that millions of people who fled Boko Haram-related violence and conflict in Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon will receive health care, food assistance and shelter. It will also bring relief to the internally displaced people as well as refugees from neighbouring countries in Somalia, Uganda and Libya.

CERF is a lifeline for people caught up in crises that don’t make the headlines but where needs are just as urgentUN Secretary-General António Guterres

Urgent support will also reach those suffering from malnutrition and food insecurity in Madagascar, Mali and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“CERF is one of the fastest ways to provide urgent aid. The allotment approved today will save lives in all nine countries,” noted UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien, who manages the Fund on the Secretary-General’s behalf.

However, the allocation of $100 million addresses only a small portion of urgent humanitarian needs.

The news release further highlighted that as the scale and intensity of emergencies continue to increase, a larger, more robust CERF is needed so that aid can reach people, whenever and wherever crises hit.

To this end, in December last year, UN General Assembly endorsed a recommendation by then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s to double CERF’s annual target to $1 billion by 2018.

“As we race to address the humanitarian challenges of today, our goal of a $1billion CERF is vital so that help reaches people, whenever and wherever crises hit,” added Mr. O’Brien, also the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, noting:

“A strong CERF – for all and by all – is a key step towards our shared commitment to leave no one behind.”