Sep 21, 2018

UNPO Welcomes the Opening Speech of the new High Commissioner of Human Rights

The speech delivered by the new High Commissioner of Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, at the Opening Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council focused on some of the key areas of human rights abuses, highlighting repressions faced by some UNPO Members. Although the High Commissioner’s direct approach is welcome, UNPO draws attention to some equally worrying issues which were overlooked in her speech.

On the occasion of the 39th Session of the Human Rights Council, the new High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, delivered her opening speech detailing global human rights violations. UNPO welcomes the High Commissioner’s general stance on these atrocious crimes and appreciates the direct manner in which she detailed the poor situation in a number of countries. UNPO further welcomes the appointment of the new High Commissioner on the grounds of her personal history and her ability to empathise with victims of human rights abuses around the world. Concerning her general position, UNPO agrees that it is important to ‘name and shame’ those who violate inalienable rights of other people, especially when superpowers like Russia, United States, or China are involved, as in those cases, human rights are systemically subjected to geopolitical interests, or perhaps at best, used as a pretext to serve other political interests.

UNPO welcomes Bachelet’s clear and conscience statement on China, referring to the “so-called re-education camps”. As the global concern over the mistreatment of the Uyghur population is growing, it is also important to voice universal condemnation at supranational level. Whilst the High Commissioner’s clear remarks on the epidemic of enforced disappearances in China are welcome, it must also be acknowledged these repressive measures were used by Beijing long before the Uyghurs shot to international spotlight earlier this year. In addition to the Muslim minority in Xinjiang (East Turkestan), whose suffering is now impossible not to notice, more thorough attention ought to be paid to Tibet, to the native people of Southern Mongolia and to all other minorities under China’s control. Furthermore, attention should be drawn to the intensified practice of isolating Taiwan from international fora.

UNPO further welcomes the High Commissioner’s remarks on the exacerbation of the repression in Cameroon, which is now experiencing its worst phase since the start. UNPO, however, would have wished for Ms Bachelet to use more accurate terminology, one that would account for the issues related to the causes of the crisis. UNPO condemns referring to Ambazonia as the “so-called Anglophone regions”, as it is both dismissive and careless. Instead, UNPO calls upon the international community to reassess its understanding of Ambazonia and of its Anglophone population, who seem themselves as a victim of the illegal transfer of colonial authority over the territory by Britain to Cameroun in a decolonisation process under the supervision of the UN.  Apart from the denying Ambazonian’s right to self-determination, Cameroonian authorities are clearly escalating the issue by conducting numerous grave human rights violations, inter alia sexual violence, village burning and blatant torture.

Regarding the crackdown on Iranian Kurds, Ms Bachelet focused exclusively on the unlawful killings of the Kurdish prisoners of conscience on 11 September this year. Shamelessly murdered by the Iranian regime, UNPO would like to once more extend its sincerest sympathies to the friends and families of Ramin Panahi and the Moradi cousins Zaniar and Loghman. They were all killed for a simple wish – recognition of Kurdish identity and the ability to control their own future. It is also important to take into account that these murders are only the most recent episode in the systemic eradication of Kurdish people by the Iranian regime.  

When we think about nations or peoples, we inevitably think about who lives where. If self-determination corresponds to ‘who’, then environment corresponds to ‘where’. UNPO calls to attention the fragile and worsening state of the global environment, as it is an important factor in many humanitarian crises. We can observe this narrative in Pakistan, where the planned Kalabagh Dam would put the native Sindh areas in danger. If only some time ago it would not have been a literal death warrant, then today, with the added seasonal droughts, this dam would be truly disastrous. Likewise, we can observe that in the Ahwazi region of Iran as well as in Tibet, central government’s deliberate poor management of resources devastates native land. A once rich and fertile area is now becoming a desolate wasteland inhospitable to human life. In fact, it is rather evident that environment is one way in which oppressive regimes subject minorities to authoritarian rule.

Overall, the speech offered a good overview of the most pressing human rights topics around the world, but it must be considered the causes underpinning these atrocious crimes. Although UNPO is aware of the sensitivities that shrouds the discussion of the right to self-determination at the UN level, it is expected from the High Commissioner to firmly address the most fundamental question regarding the legitimacy of one’s identity – a precondition for one’s life to flourish. UNPO calls upon the international community to realise that deliberately avoiding the question of self-determination is contributing to the human rights violations that we are witnessing today.

To conclude, UNPO commends the High Commissioner for her relatively strong and direct approach -  particularly for highlighting China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan. During her mandate, UNPO wishes to see a more direct engagement with the reasons underpinning contemporary issues, rather than just encouraging the international community to administer palliative measures for temporary relief. A truly multilateral approach, the need for which was raised by the High Commissioner herself, would also include all those who are not fortunate enough to have a seat at the United Nations, all those whose voices are deliberately repressed, and all those whose desires are incompatible with the status quo so prevalently underwriting the rules of international institutions.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia