U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has warned that the situation in Syria is likely to descend into an all-out sectarian conflict, as the international community remains divided on how to end the 20-month-old crisis.
"The memories of what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be sufficiently fresh to warn us all of the danger of allowing Syria to descend into all-out sectarian conflict," she told a news conference in Geneva on Thursday.
"Thousands and thousands of men, women and children have already been killed, injured, tortured, displaced. It should not take something as drastic as Srebrenica to shake the world into taking serious action to stop this type of conflict," the U.N. official said. "By remaining divided, the international community is enabling the continuation of the suffering and helping create the circumstances for a wider regional conflict," she added.
The Middle East and North Africa will continue to present major human rights challenges - and opportunities - for "many years to come," according to the U.N. human rights chief.
"The situation in Syria is quite simply dire," Pillay said, adding that "with no end in sight, and no solutions within easy grasp, we are in danger of becoming inured to the horrors that Syrian civilians are suffering day in and day out. But we cannot simply shrug and turn away."
The brutal suppression of the uprising against the regime of embattled President Bashar al-Assad has left more than 20,000 people dead and another 2.5 million in need of humanitarian aid.
Pillay also noted that much work needs to be done in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen - all undergoing their own democratic transitions after overthrowing long-entrenched regimes - to ensure that the human rights and aspirations of all their people are respected, without discrimination and in accordance with international standards.
"The situations in each of these four countries are very different from each other, and solutions will need to be carefully tailored to the rapidly changing circumstances," Pillay said, noting that Libya in particular is "extremely fragile" after decades of autocratic and "disastrous misrule" by Moammar Qadhafi. The North African country has been undergoing a transition toward a modern democratic State after and the toppling of the Qadhafi regime.
Human rights situation in Afghanistan will also require continued monitoring and support as the transfer of security responsibilities and withdrawal of foreign forces proceed over the coming years, the High Commissioner, who began her second term last month, pointed out.
She also highlighted some "neglected" situations that she intends to shine more of a spotlight on over the next two years, including the human rights situation in North Korea.
"The use of political prison camps, frequent public executions and severe food shortages, coupled with the extreme difficulty of gaining access, make the country singularly problematic," she said.
Human rights of people living in areas that are the subject of unresolved territorial disputes are also often neglected, she noted, adding that one such example is Jammu and Kashmir in India, where the discovery of 2,730 bodies in unmarked mass graves was confirmed in a 2011 report by the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission.
She urged the Indian authorities to "fully investigate past killings and disappearances and bring the perpetrators to justice, as well as to ensure protection of witnesses and families of the missing and provide them with redress."
To deal with these and numerous other issues, she added, it is critical to increase the resources available to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year.
"As we approach our 20th anniversary, the U.N. human rights system is at a pivotal moment in its history. Human rights are so wide-ranging and all-encompassing, and, sadly, still so commonly abused, that clearly we need to become bigger, better, faster, and stronger," Pillay said.
She concluded by sending an alarm that "there is very little fat to cut, and I fear unless more donors, both governmental and private, come to the rescue, the damage to our operations could be considerable, and the much-needed momentum gained over the past few years risks being halted in its tracks."
by RTT Staff Writer
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