UN rights chief seeks world support for uprisings

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The UN's top human rights official has called on the world to back the popular revolts shaking the Middle East.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: "The international community bears the great responsibility of extending its support in words and deeds."

She told the UN's Human Rights Council today that the world must help the protesters quickly cement new changes "before former entrenched interests begin to reassert themselves, or new threats emerge."

Ms Pillay said protesters were worried that the international community too often put stability, the status quo and trade in valuable natural resources ahead of essential human rights.

Foreign ministers from around the world are gathering in Geneva at the Human Rights Council to discuss the uprisings in Libya and other nations.

They include US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"For the sake of humanity, go now!" Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said, comparing Gaddafi's actions to the genocides in Rwanda, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica and Sudan's Darfur region.

Ms Pillay set the tone by noting that the session was opening amid historic turbulent times as massive popular movements are sweeping through Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and elsewhere.

She urged the world's nations to help protesters quickly cement new changes, before formerly entrenched regimes or "new threats" emerge to human rights and democracy.

"From city street to city street, their uproar made clear that despair was not acquiescence," she said. "Protesters have voiced concern over the fact that the international community has all too often prioritised the stability of the political status quo and unhampered trade in natural resources over human rights."

UN General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, about to decide on an unprecedented suspension of Libya from the Human Rights Council next week, encouraged all "human rights defenders who frequently act in great danger."