Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited Georgetown for a discussion on human rights issues occurring globally with Anne Richard (SFS’82), former Assistant Secretary of State for Populations, Refugees and Migration and 2017-2018 SFS Centennial Fellow. The event was hosted by the International Relations Club, the Lecture Fund, and the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA).
This is his second recent visit to campus. In February 2017, he received the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy’s Raymond ‘Jit’ Trainor Award for Excellence in the Conduct of Diplomacy.
In his remarks, Al Hussein noted the high priority that the United Nations’ Charter places on human rights. “The UN Charter’s Preamble references human rights before peace and security and before development,” he said. Therefore, “human rights are absolutely critical.”
Al Hussein made the case that violations of human rights have been at the roots of the major conflicts from the early 20th century to present times. “In so many conflicts you can go back to capricious decision-making because the rulership was so authoritarian and unchallengeable, as we saw with Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait or when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union…The root of it is human rights, in many respects.”
On the refugee crisis in Europe, Al Hussein spoke about the violations of the rights of asylum seekers and expressed surprise that the populations of Europe have forgotten the lessons of the World War II era. “How can it be that in Hungary, people have forgotten about 1944 and 1956?”
Al Hussein also discussed the dire state of human rights in Syria as the Syrian civil war endures. In 2011, 22 teenage boys were arrested and tortured in Daraa, Syria for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of their schoolyard. Al Hussein noted that “the president, instead of siding with the families of those children, sided with the the police and security forces.” According to Al Hussein, al-Assad’s disregard for the human rights of the boys was ultimately the spark that started the Syrian civil war.
He expressed hope for a resolution to the Syrian civil war. However, he also stipulated a need to hold the regime accountable. “You cannot help but feel that to go back to a situation somehow like the way it was in 2011 is impossible. There has to be a political transition.”
Al Hussein ended the speech on a positive note, asserting that there are groups of lawyers, investigators, and journalists working feverishly to bring human rights violators to justice. “It won’t happen with everyone, but it will happen for some and at least that’s something for the victims. If you don’t have that, then we really are a destroyed species,” Al Hussein warned.