UN human rights chief Zeid cites ‘arduous’ year as he plans to step down
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, head of the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), plans on stepping down next year because the climate for defending human rights across the globe has muted the power of advocacy in the role.
A clearly discouraged yet defiant Zeid notified his staff Wednesday in a message confirmed by media outlets including Foreign Policy and the New York Times.
“After reflection, I have decided not to seek a second four-year term,” Zeid wrote. “To do so, in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice — which is your voice.”
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary General António Guterres, confirmed Zeid’s plans to leave. “The high commissioner informed the secretary general last week of his intention not to seek another term,” Mr. Dujarric told reporters. “The high commissioner has always enjoyed the full support of the secretary general.”
Zeid assumed his role as OHCHR chief in September 2014, and is the first Arab Muslim to do so. The Jordanian prince, educated at The Johns Hopkins University in the United States and Cambridge University in the UK, has for decades championed the cause of peace and human rights in a distinguished diplomatic career.
His moral clarity on alleged human rights violations in Libya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi has turned equally to the crises of leadership and accountability in Myanmar, or to European nations mired in conflict over migration policy, and an increasingly isolationist United States turning from its human rights commitments.
Zeid plans to step down in September. “There are many months ahead of us: months of struggle, perhaps, and even grief,” he told staff, “because although the past year has been arduous for many of us, it has been appalling for many of the people we serve.”
Image: United Nations/Ahunna Eziakonwa