As so often at the sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council, some interventions by states go unnoticed.
Under the famous ceiling of room XX created by Miquel Barcel in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, the on-going session of the Council is no different. Some of those unnoticed statements deserve our attention.
One in particular.
On Thursday, 5 March, one of the United Nations’ chief human rights voices, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, presented his first annual report to the council. It is his first since he took up the position of high commissioner for human rights in September 2014. From terrorism, torture and harassment of human rights defenders to the reorganisation of his office, the high commissioner’s report aims at presenting the state of human rights, the major threats against them and how he aims at building up his office to face those realities.
Al Hussein’s mandate, which Norway at the council called “an authoritative voice on human rights, built on […] repeated confirmation of its independence,” is what the Russian Federation in fact wants to silence.
Russia, which is today one of the 47 members of the council, was infuriated at the high commissioner’s statement presenting his report. It is traditional for states mentioned by international human rights mechanisms to accuse such instruments for being politicised and obeying “double standards.”
Russia went a step further by “condemning the high commissioner’s attempts to stigmatise any states for their acts or omissions in the field of human rights, even if they indeed took place.” Russia does not refer to politicisation or to attention the high commissioner would be giving to situations in certain countries only, but instead calls upon the United Nations voice for human rights to stop mentioning any country all together, whatever human rights violation took place in the country. In fact, Russia calls for the high commissioner to be silent.
Such a statement should not remain unnoticed because it sheds light on how Russia sees the international system; not one of standards and principles challenging states but rather one of obedience and muteness serving the states. The challenge Russia is facing with the high commissioner’s report is in fact a reflection of its disrespect for international law, be it in the way it has led suppression of civil society at home or its military activities in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea.
Because we must applaud those who stand firm for rights, we must also make sure that declarations by states who aim at silencing them do not go unnoticed. This one in particular.