IN a parting shot before leaving his post as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has eviscerated modern politicians, calling certain high-profile leaders “bullies, deceivers, selfish cowards,” and blaming their rise on the “mediocre” sycophants that surround them.
On his last day in the job, Al Hussein laments the dire state of world politics and the broken systems failing to hold brutal rulers to account in a think piece for The Economist.
Naming the likes of US President Donald Trump and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Al Hussein blames their rise partly on the politicians around them who are too focused on their own image and the vanities of public office.
Decrying the lack of courage in modern politicians, he says they are “too busy with themselves, or too afraid to stand up to the demagogues and for others, they seem to shelter in the safety of silence and shuffled papers.”
"I first worked with the UN in the former Yugoslavia and I saw what catastrophes silence can bring."
— Outgoing @UNHumanRights chief Zeid on the importance of speaking out against human rights abuses. #StandUp4HumanRights pic.twitter.com/31qKKPhZcK
— United Nations (@UN) August 30, 2018
The human rights chief stepped down from his position as one of the top dogs at the UN on Saturday. His parting thoughts read like the resignation letter of a man who is desperately frustrated by the lack of political will to ease the suffering of our fellow human beings. In it, he takes aim at those who not only refuse to act on tales of anguish, but who actively engineer them.
“Across the world, in both the northern and southern hemispheres, there are politicians who are too self-serving, or too spiteful, to care for and protect the most vulnerable,” Al Hussein says. “They are not just cowardly but profoundly foolish, because in producing these stress fractures, they place at risk not only their own futures, but everyone else’s as well.”
He points to the hypocrisy of conservative politicians and the “frothing-at-the-mouth right–wing” in Europe, whose simultaneous stigmatisation of Muslims and funding of those who foster intolerance in Islam will eventually lead to consequences that could “destroy… Southeast Asia.”
The Rohingya crisis in Burma (Myanmar) and the refugees in Bangladesh could be the tinderbox to set alight a dangerous confrontation between Islamic terror groups and Buddhist extremism in Asia, he says.
Where and when exactly cannot be known, but contentious regional elections and a failure of the international community – led by “too many feckless politicians” – to hold Burma to account will fuel the flame.
“When Myanmar inflicts enormous suffering on the Rohingya—burns them in their homes, cuts the throats of their children, rapes and terrorises, sends 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh in only three weeks—and the government pays no penalty for this—what are we saying to the perpetrators? Or to the victims? And to other potential perpetrators across the globe?,” Al Hussein asks.
“How much more cruel can humanity be, and how much chaos and pain are we fomenting?”
Rape and violence "used as a tactic of war" against civilian population in #Myanmar as part of "deliberate strategy" – Independent Int'l Fact-finding Mission's Radhika Coomaraswamy. FULL report: https://t.co/Nom8PssF2I pic.twitter.com/DmICMIqwrM
— UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) August 27, 2018
But alas, it’s not all doom and gloom. There may yet still be a way off this dark path on which we find ourselves.
Grassroots activists and community leaders are the world’s best bet for survival, according to Al Hussein.
These are the people who exhibit true courage, selflessness and valour in the face of self-serving “elected xenophobes and charlatans.”
Senator Leila de Lima of the Philippines – who is incarcerated on politically motivated drug charges – is commended for her bravery in opposing President Rodrigo Duterte.
He praises Angkhana Neelapaijit from Thailand, whose lawyer husband disappeared in 2004 leaving her to become a “most courageous activist,” fighting against enforced disappearances.
While these courageous individuals and bigger social movements are scattered across the globe, tackling unique and different issues, what would happen if they all joined forces in support of each other, Al Hussein muses.
What if they spoke as one human rights movement? Would their power leave a lasting impression?
He believes that if a global, coordinated human rights movement walks hand-in-hand with business, it could send shockwaves through the dangerous stagnation of selfishness that currently lies at the top of the pyramid.
Without this shock – this change of course – the future looks bleak.
In a stark warning, Al Hussein sees parallels between today and 1935 when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. Then, the League of Nations did nothing, powerless to prevent or reverse it. Hitler, he says, was watching from the sidelines and taking note.
“Who’s taking note now?”