UN human rights chief calls it quits


Jan 06,2018 – JORDAN TIMES –

The declared intention of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights HH Prince Zeid not to seek another term at the end of his first term of office in August 2018 did not take many by surprise since it coincided with signals from several quarters including some of the major power brokers in the UN system against extending his term.

It is highly unusual for a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to serve only one term but converging circumstances from both sides of the equation have unhappily led to this conclusion.

For starters, Prince Zeid had his sight set first on something higher, namely the post of the UN Secretary General that was finally “given” to the previous S.G. Ban Ki-moon. The UN major policy makers did not want to rock the boat too much within the international organisation and decided then on Ban because his stewardship of the UN was expected to be smooth sailing. 

Ban was viewed as a bridge builder between nations and that was what he turned out to be. Prince Zeid has strong ideas on issues and is not the kind that world bend backward to accommodate the big five within the UN or any groups of nations within it. The prince is not the expedient kind by nature when it comes to making major policy issues. For this trait, he had to pay the ultimate price of losing a bid for another term in office.

To be sure, Prince Zeid ruffled feathers among many countries during his first term of office including within the Arab and Muslim states on issues such as the so-called LGBT kind. The personal traits of the prince prevented from enjoying flexibility on issues that divided religions and cultures.

For him what is right from the international perspective is right for all other countries irrespective of their sensitivities. This perspective turned many of his previous supporters into foes during the last three years of his term of office. Locking horns with major powers especially with the US. Russia and China, for example on key human rights concerns, are no way to stay in office within the UN system for long.

This is a no-no as the international community knows only too well. The record of the prince suggests also that he is given to concentrate on high-profile human rights issues at the expense of, for example, economic, social and cultural rights which are very critical for the developing nations. Non-sensational human rights concerns were often downgraded by his office. 

Unfortunately also for the prince, his management style ruffled many feathers among his staff as well. He was repeatedly perceived as exercising favouritism among his staff even at the expense of quality and good judgement.

The high commissioner dislikes by nature those who lock horns with him on management or policy issues and he is not the kind who forgets or forgives those who stand in his way. Yet the road before him still offers new opportunities now that he has mellowed a bit here and there.

The prince is still young and energetic and if he can only bend some of his own personal rules and traits, the years ahead can be full of even greater opportunities. He surely desrves that much. 

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