Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

BBC Arabic interview with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Malak Jaafar on the BBC Arabic interviewed the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is a Muslim and from Jordan, and people say he's very smart. But that means nothing at all when Malak is eyeballing you:

The name of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein.

I caught the interview shortly after it started:

Mr. Zeid was talking about the attack on the French newspaper in Paris. He said: I condemned the attack. I also said the cartoons were insulting to Muslims. But an insult does that mean that we fight back in this violent way. It means that we fight back through our own freedom of speech. It's hard to find the line between freedom of speech and harassment through speech. Right now there are big marches against Islam in cities like Dresden, for example. We Muslims have to reach out and talk to these people.

Malak: So are you saying that Muslims are remiss in to entering into dialogue with the people in these demonstrations?

High Commissioner: Good question. After the attacks, there were strong condemnations from Arab governments. But so far, we have not seen big demonstrations against Daa-esh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) or other brutal acts. This is strange. When the war broke out in Gaza, we saw demonstrations in Jordan every day against the war and against the attack. But there are no demonstrations against what Daa-esh is doing?

Malak: Why is that? Do you think it shows that people are actually in agreement with Daa-esh?

High Commissioner: By God ... There is no doubt that there is a political side in the Middle East that does like them. But when we read of the outrageous crimes against women, kids, sheikhs, it's hard to understand how we could have reached this point.

Malak: You and your predecessor Navi Pillay spent a lot of time speaking out. But what can you do beyond that?

High Commissioner: Well, we gather information from victims, we talk to people who were hurt. We gather the information and we give the information to the International Court, to the Security Council.

Malak: But you've been down that road before.

High Commissioner: Yes, yes, of course. At that point, the responsibility becomes that of the Security Council.

Malak: So basically, the upholding of human rights is completely political; it lies entirely within the politics playing out on the Security Council.

High Commissioner: Yes, this is true. But our agencies can still provide guidance, we can help provide solutions. Of course, we are often foiled ...

Malak: You make reports. How credible are they? People have said that your reports from Syria, for example, often depend on witnesses. A large amount of your reports depend on on-the-ground correspondents. [I guess Malak was suggesting that these are not always credible.]

High Commissioner: I am pretty certain that our information reflects what is happening on the ground. But I've also been clear that if anyone finds anything wrong in the report, they have to tell us. Maybe casualty numbers in the report are exaggerated. If you tell us, we will investigate.

Malak: Did you ever find mistakes before?

High Commissioner: Yes, of course. We're just people. But over all, I am certain that things are more often correct than not. Sometimes when we hear of demonstrations, we actually will hesitate to report them right away, because we want to fact-check first.

Malak: These reports have big numbers of casualties in them. Don't you think it would be good to do like the Red Cross does, which does not always point fingers about who is doing what and instead conveys that information quietly to the parties involved?

High Commissioner: Well, I think that about 60% of our work is done just with the concerned authorities. I think only about 20% ends up being done in public. So the majority of our work is about trying to help find a solution. But I'll give you an example. There was a government, we sent them a report. We wanted to hear an answer from them. But after a year, there was still no answer. So I told the head of the government that we cannot wait any longer, we will have to go to the press now. The very next day, I got a letter from them.

Malak: Were they afraid?

High Commissioner: Sometimes they are. We mostly try to work cooperatively with governments. We don't want to threaten.

The conversation then turned to the International Criminal Court.

Malak: Well, really, the role that the International Criminal Court can play in all this is absolutely stalled. We just saw how Omar Bashir's case was tossed. (Omar Bashir is the president of Sudan who was charged with genocide in Darfur, you can learn more about him here.)

High Commissioner: Listen, be patient with us. When the ICC was created, we knew that this was a project that would need a lot of time. We thought it might take 30 years. Because of course there's going to be regressions and obstacles.

Malak: So do you think it will be 30 years we can try Omar Bashir, Syria's president Assad and etc in the courts?

High Commissioner: My dear lady. Listen. When Charles Taylor left power in Liberia, there was an idea that he was going to escape all his crimes and charges, but things changed. He was sent to the Hague, he was tried, he's now in prison. So things can change. When Omar al Bashir's charges were dropped, we were very clear why. It was not because there is not a case, it's because we had no cooperation. Especially from the countries on the Security Council.

Malak: Right, it always comes back to the Security Council.

High Commissioner: Right, so we need to keep putting pressure on these countries. And Arab countries are full of blood, bloods of innocents, of violations of women and children. We just cannot keep on this way!

Malak: Well, there's a movement that says: while war crimes are not condoned amongst the average Arab, there's  a whole different idea of what children's rights and women's rights should look like. So what do you think about that?

High Commissioner: Well... [And I don't think I understood what he said. Except for one bit:] In Jordan, for example, the other day eleven people were sentenced to death and executed. And I sent them my grievances about it. When I talk to NGOs in Arab countries, to Arab civil society, I found that there were ??? ... When we talk about what's happening in Yemen, in Libya, in Iraq, in Syria ... the temporary visas given to people ... there's frictions, but in general, we all hope for progress. We always hear about what is happening in South Sudan, or Mali, and as the years pass, we feel as though ... [he was just big words that I don't know.]

And so the half hour ended.

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