By Stefan Armbruster
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called on Papua New Guinea to tackle a long list of abuses in the country.
Praising PNG’s “welcomed openness” after inviting him for a one-day visit, the high commissioner issued a to-do list and emphasised the eyes of the world would be on the country during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in November.
After meeting with prime minister Peter O’Neill, Mr Zeid said PNG needed to tackle corruption, strengthen the rule of law and hold business accountable for human rights abuses. He also raised the issues of refugees on Manus, resource industry land leases, and associated police brutality, gender-based violence and sorcery.
“Papua New Guinea appears to be a country of contradictions. There are exemplary laws and policies in place to protect human rights, but they are reportedly often not enforced,” he said.
“It is a resource-rich country, but much of its population lives in abject poverty, with acute malnutrition rates in some areas comparable to Yemen and minimal access to quality healthcare and education.
“It has strong civil society activists but there is little room for them to influence Government policy.”
'Committed' to Human Rights Commission
In a statement issued before the High Commissioner’s visit, Mr O’Neill’s office thanked him for visiting PNG for the first time.
“The observations of the High Commissioner are comforting as this government has made a concerted effort to engage with all stakeholders, particularly civil society,” Mr O’Neill’s statement said.
“Our Government is committed to establishing a Human Rights Commission in our country. We are working through the details required to establish this important office and look to making an announcement soon before the matter is put to Parliament for discussion.
“As our country continues to advance, we will still experience the same human rights issues that are experienced by countries around the world.”
Reported actions 'shameful'
The creation of National Human Rights Track Court and a planned independent national human rights commission by the O’Neill government were praised by the UN commissioner.
“I was, however, troubled to hear about attacks against human rights defenders and journalists working on sensitive issues, particularly relating to land rights and corruption,” Mr Zeid said.
“I call on the government to protect the important watchdog function of civil society, and indeed treating them as partners in tackling difficult human rights challenges, including the endemic gender-based violence and horrific attacks against those accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea.”
Mr Zeid condemned as “unacceptable” leases to the resource industry that trampled on the rights of landowners, especially the Special Agriculture Business Leases (SABL) and forced evictions.
“The reported actions of some major corporations engaged in the extractive industries in Papua New Guinea are shameful,” Mr Zeid said, citing also incidence of sexual violence with impunity in some cases.
“States have a responsibility to prevent, investigate, punish and redress human rights abuses within their territory, including abuses committed by private corporations. And business enterprises have an obligation to avoid infringing on the human rights of others and to address adverse human rights impacts of their activities.”
“States and businesses can flourish without trampling brutally on people’s human rights – but in Papua New Guinea, human rights advocates report that local communities rarely get any benefits from the extractive operations carried out by large corporations on their land,” he said.
Call to end death penalty
He also called for an end to the death penalty. There are currently eight men on death row, down from 12 after two were acquitted on appeal and another two died in prison.
PNG authorities have not carried out any executions due to lack of equipment and training.
During his visit the High Commissioner met with the prime minister, government officials, judiciary and civil society organisations.
PNG's nearest neighbour Australia is its largest aid donor and when elected to the UN Human Rights Council late last year said it would champion issues on behalf of the Pacific.
Published on SBS News on February 10, 2018
By Peter Beaumont
The UN’s top human rights official has marked the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories by calling for its quick end, insisting that such an outcome would benefit both sides.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the Jordanian prince and UN high commissioner for human rights, echoed the strong language of the UN secretary general, António Guterres, who earlier this week condemned the occupation’s “heavy humanitarian and development burden on the Palestinian people”, which he said had “fuelled recurring cycles of violence and retribution”.
The remarks follow a series of critical reports by humanitarian and rights organisations that reveal the impact of the 50-year occupation, and come as Israeli politicians celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1967 six-day war, in which Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Old City.
The focus of the Israeli celebrations has been what it calls the “reunification” of Jerusalem, a characterisation rejected by most of the international community, which does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the captured territories.
Although Israel has attempted to treat the war’s anniversary as a national celebration, the occupation that followed Israel’s victory over Jordan, Syria and Egypt has drawn more attention internationally.
Jan Egeland, a former UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in Jerusalem on Tuesday: “This 50-year-old festering wound is a reflection of a capitulation of Israeli, Palestinian and international leadership in the search for peace and reconciliation.
“Two generations have already lived under occupation and in mounting disillusionment and despair. Both Palestinian and Israeli children are denied a future in peace and security.”
Zeid’s comments, also on Tuesday, were made in a speech marking the opening of the three-week session of the UN’s human rights council. He described the anniversary for the Palestinian people as marking “a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force”.
While saying that Israelis deserved freedom from attacks, Zeid laid the blame for the continuing cycle of violence on the occupation. “Maintain the occupation,” he said, “and for both peoples there will only be a prolongation of immense pain.”
Zeid also condemned 2,000 years of anti-Jewish sentiment, which he said had culminated in the “colossal crime” of the Holocaust.
The UN body is frequently accused of being hostile to Israel by its critics, including the Israeli government and some in the US. On Tuesday the Trump administration gave formal notice of its intention to review its participation in the council and called for it to be reformed to eliminate a “chronic anti-Israel bias”.
“The United States is looking carefully at this council and our participation in it. We see some areas for significant strengthening,” Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Geneva forum in her first address.
Zeid’s comments echoed an equally forthright statement on Monday from the UN secretary general. Guterres said the continued occupation was “an unmistakable message to generations of Palestinians that their dream of statehood is destined to remain just that: a dream; and to Israelis that their desire for peace, security and regional recognition remains unattainable”.
“Generation after generation of Palestinians who have been compelled to grow up and live in ever more crowded refugee camps, many in abject poverty, and with little or no prospect of a better life for their children,” he said.
“Continued settlement construction and expansion; violence and incitement; and the illicit arms build-up and militant activity in Gaza risk creating a one-state reality that is incompatible with realising the legitimate national and historic aspirations of both peoples.”
On Sunday, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of using “repression, institutionalised discrimination, and systematic abuses of the Palestinian population’s rights” to maintain control over areas it occupies.
It cited “at least five categories of major violations of international human rights law … characterised [by] the occupation: unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians.”
“Whether it’s a child imprisoned by a military court or shot unjustifiably, or a house demolished for lack of an elusive permit, or checkpoints where only settlers are allowed to pass, few Palestinians have escaped serious rights abuses during this 50-year occupation,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Israel today maintains an entrenched system of institutionalised discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territory – repression that extends far beyond any security rationale.”
Oxfam last week blamed the international community for “continu[ing] to turn a blind eye to Israel’s violations of international law and the abuse of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory [OPT]”.
Oxfam country director Chris Eijkemans said the inaction of international governments sent the wrong signal: that international law can be violated with impunity. This lack of accountability keeps Palestinians poor and prevents them from accessing their rights. “There are few examples of poverty or injustice in the OPT that do not stem from the occupation,” Eijkemans said.
“If it weren’t for the occupation, most aid agencies would not need to be here. The issues facing Palestinians are enormous and complex, but on each count, despite the billions of dollars invested, the lives of Palestinians cannot meaningfully improve as long as the occupation persists.”
Israeli officials have insisted that the continuing conflict is not about the occupation but is due to Palestinian intransigence in peace negotiations.
Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, Michael Oren, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on Monday. He said: “We’ll hear a lot this week about occupation and lack of Palestinian independence. Israel has a clear policy on this score: it does not want to rule over another people and is ready to begin immediate negotiations.
“Yet while Palestinian leaders claim they support a two-state solution, until they state that they favour ‘two states for two peoples’, affirming both Jewish and Palestinian peoplehood and rights, the conflict will tragically persist. It is only through mutual recognition that Israelis and Palestinians will both be able to celebrate, rather than mourn, future anniversaries.”
Published on The Guardian on June 6, 2017.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday announced a landmark five-year partnership with Microsoft Corp. As part of the agreement, Microsoft will provide a grant of $5 million (USD) to support the work of the UN Human Rights Office. This represents an unprecedented level of support from a private-sector organization.
A particular area of focus for the partnership will be the development and use of advanced technology designed to better predict, analyze and respond to critical human rights situations, which currently appear not only to be proliferating in many parts of the world — including areas previously viewed as stable — but also growing in complexity.
The new partnership builds on a longstanding relationship between the UN Human Rights Office and Microsoft that is based on two shared ideas. The first is a commitment to ensuring technology plays a positive role in helping to promote and protect human rights. The second is a recognition of the need for the private sector to play a bigger part in helping to advance the cause of human rights globally.
“As a global company that sees the problems of the world, we believe that we have a responsibility to help solve them,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “We have an untapped opportunity to use the power of technology to collect data, analyze that data and equip the United Nations to advance human rights around the world.”
Technology for human rights
While in some cases technology may contribute to human rights challenges, it also has an important role to play in tackling abuses. The grant from Microsoft will help establish technology that has a positive impact, for example by developing and deploying new technology solutions specifically designed to advance the mission of the UN Human Rights Office and protect human rights.
One example is Rights View, an information “dashboard” that will allow UN human rights staff to aggregate large quantities of internal and external data on specific countries and types of rights violations in real time. It will help facilitate analysis, ensure early warning of emerging critical issues and provide data to guide responses. This tool, powered by cloud computing and big data analysis, is just one example of the potential for technology to be a force for good.
Business and human rights
Microsoft will also work with the UN Human Rights Office to raise awareness of the role that companies can and should play in driving respect for human rights and to promote more responsible business conduct across the world. Microsoft will work closely with the Office to help promote broader adoption and implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The UN Guiding Principles provide a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity.
Microsoft will also provide support for human rights advocacy and outreach campaigns through concrete support for the work of the UN Human Rights Office in key areas like freedom of expression, data protection and privacy, and inclusion. This includes direct support for the development and promotion of corporate principles for tackling LGBTI discrimination in the workplace in line with international human rights standards.
“This could be a truly groundbreaking agreement,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “We live in a rapidly evolving age, where technology can either be used to solve human rights problems or misused to erode human rights. Similarly, companies can infringe people’s rights, or they can be a major progressive force.”
“The private sector has an essential role to play in advancing human rights, and this partnership with Microsoft demonstrates how we can join forces in a constructive way,” Zeid said. “I hope this is just the beginning of something much bigger: that it helps stimulate a broad movement by the private sector to stand up for human rights. Increased support from major companies in the technology sector and other fields can clearly make a critical difference.”
Published on Microsoft's website on May 16, 2017.