Hail the prince

Jul 29,2018 – JORDAN TIMES –

In six weeks, the term of office of His Highness Prince Zeid Bin Ra’ad as UN high commissioner for human rights will expire.

Prince Zeid said publicly that he would not seek a second term because he vexed so many powerful governments while carrying out his mandate that nobody would vote for him.

He is the seventh individual to lead the office of the high commissioner for human rights, and the first Asian, Muslim, Arab or prince to do so. Interestingly, not a single high commissioner has ever served a second term, Navi Pillay’s term was only extended by two years, which puts Prince Zeid in the good company of internationally respected celebrities, such as former Irish President Mary Robinson and Canadian jurist Louise Arbor.

I humbly posit that it is a badge of honour for Prince Zeid that so many governments would oppose his candidacy for a second term. He had the choice between remaining true to his principles or keeping his office, and he chose the former.

It would be no exaggeration to say that his career should be highlighted in school syllabuses in Jordan and throughout the Arab world because this is a moment when Jordan and the Arab world suffer from a dire need for inspiring role models who make a stand on principle, and who stand on the side of integrity.

But why are human rights such a challenging issue? After all, who in the world argues against the principles of human rights? Well, the devil is in the details.

It all started back in the seventies when the US elected a morally upright president, Jimmy Carter, then hastened to vote him out after one term for the same reasons for which he had been elected in the first place.

Carter sought to make human rights a focus of US foreign policy. But his national security advisor, Brzezinski saw human rights as a tool of foreign policy, to recapture the moral high-ground, as he wrote in his memoirs titled: Power and Principle.

The problem with preaching high principles, unless you are genuinely sincere, is that they can catch up with you and bite you solidly in the behind.

Human rights cannot become a tool of diplomacy because diplomacy is the art of making compromises, while principles should never be compromised. Disputes inevitably arose between politicians, who are happy enough to use human rights as a bludgeon to beat their adversaries, but unhappy when the same weapon is turned against them for their transgressions; and human rights activists who hold only their principles to be inviolable and who recognise no holy cows as being above criticism.

In less than half a century since the introduction of human rights politics, the discourse of countries with generally decent human rights records became indistinguishable from those with the worst records in this area.

Governments who could not agree on anything else, united in pointing the finger of scorn at the high commissioner for human rights. Uniting them, even in error, is an achievement worthy of admiration.




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