UN human rights chief quits after Trump Jerusalem decision, saying he will not 'bend a knee in supplication'

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein was reportedly pressured to tone down criticism of US President

Chris Baynes
Thursday 21 December 2017 14:06
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Donald Trump threatens to cut 'billions of dollars' of aid to countries over UN Jerusalem vote

The United Nations human rights chief is to step down, suggesting that his re-election would involve ”lessening the independence and integrity of my voice” after his outspoken criticism of world powers – including the US.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said he would not seek a second four-year term as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, telling staff in an email: “To do so, in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication”.

The Jordanian Prince had reportedly been under pressure to tone down his criticism of Donald Trump, who he has previously described as “dangerous” and blamed for a “surge in discrimination, anti-Semitism, and violence against ethnic and religious minorities”.

This week Mr Hussein described the US decision to recognise Jerusalem of the capital of Israel as “dangerously provocative” and blamed the President’s announcement for violence in which five people died.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had urged Mr Hussein to ease off his public criticism of the American President over fears it put US support for the United Nations at risk, reported Foreign Policy, which obtained the human rights chief’s email to staff.

In the statement, Mr Hussein wrote: “After reflection, I have decided not to seek a second four-year term. 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.

“There are many months ahead of us: months of struggle, perhaps, and even grief – because although the past year has been arduous for many of us, it has been appalling for many of the people we serve.”

Donald Trump officially recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital

He did not specifically mention the US, Mr Trump, or pressure to tone down criticism. But his decision to step down raises questions about the UN’s role as a champion of human rights.

Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for Global Advocacy at Human Rights Watch (HRW), described Mr Hussein as “a beacon of moral clarity” and said it was “sad to see he felt that he had no other choice but to step down at the end of his first mandate to protect the integrity of his voice”.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of HRW, said Mr Hussein had faced working in a “hostile environment”.

A spokesman for Mr Guterres confirmed Mr Hussein would depart at the end of his current term in August.

He said: “The High Commissioner informed the Secretary General last week of his intention not to seek another term. The High Commissioner has always enjoyed the full support of the Secretary General.”

The US ambassador to the UN this week warned she was “taking names” of UN members who oppose Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The President threatened to withhold billions of dollars in aid from those nations which criticise his controversial decision.

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