Category Archives: HUMAN RIGHTS

Mexico: Cuitláhuac García issues decree for Culture of Peace and Human Rights Directorate

. . . . . HUMAN RIGHTS . . . . .

An article from El Dictamen

The governor of the state of Veracruz, Cuitláhuac García Jiménez, has issued the Decree to form the General Directorate of Culture of Peace and Human Rights, as part of the Declaration of the Emerging Program for Crisis of Serious Violations of Human Rights in Matters of Disappearance of Persons in the State.

This decree reforms, adds and repeals various provisions of the Internal Regulation of the Government Secretariat and indicates that from this Thursday until the creation of the State Search Commission in the Entity, the attention to cases of missing persons will be made through of the General Directorate of Culture of Peace and Human Rights, under the Ministry of Government.

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(Click here for the original Spanish version of this article.)

Question related to this article:

How can we develop the institutional framework for a culture of peace?

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Among the powers of the head of the aforementioned unit are to assist in institutional strengthening through the design, implementation, management, strengthening and consolidation of public policies on culture and education for peace, in accordance with the constitutional and legal provisions on of human rights.

In addition, it will elaborate and coordinate the State Human Rights Program, in collaboration with the bodies of the State Public Administration, Autonomous Bodies and Civil Society, in accordance with the guidelines of the National Human Rights Program, the State Development Plan, and Sectoral, Regional, Institutional and Priority Programs.

Once approved by the head of the State Government Secretariat and published in the Official Gazette of the State, its implementation and compliance will be monitored and its evaluation coordinated.

Studies and thematic research on human rights will also be carried out, in order to analyze the information that originates from them and thus propose public policies on the matter, considering the results of reports, rapporteurs, committees and working groups of organizations multilateral and international human rights

Iran: 3000 signature campaign for child abuse prevention

. . . . . HUMAN RIGHTS . . . . .

Sent to CPNN by Javaher Sinaei

As the Iran Chapter of My Body Is My Body Program, Shahin Gavanji and Jahangir Gavanji organised a signature campaign to support Child Abuse Prevention in Iran: the 3000 signature campaign for child protection and child abuse prevention. 

The purpose of the campaign was to announce the support of the Iranian people for preventing child abuse by signing on the fabric.  In this plan, a fabric of 15 square meters was fabricated and put in all the main parks of each province.   

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Question related to this article:

How to stop violence against children?

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More than 3,000 signatures were collected from all cities in Iran 
(31 cities Alborz, Ardabil, Bushehr, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, EastAzerbaijan,Isfahan,Fars,Gilan, Golestan, Hamadan, Hormozgan,Ilam, Kerman,Kermanshah,Khuzestan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad,Kurdistan,Lorestan, Markazi,Mazandaran,North Khorasan,Qazvin, Qom,RazaviKhorasan,Semnan,Sistan and Baluchestan,South Khorasan,Tehran,West Azerbaijan, Yazd, Zanjan).

The goals of this campaign:

1- The collective participation of citizens to learn about this positive social program leading to child abuse prevention.

2- Meetings and face to face conversations with different groups of people on a large scale to get familiar with My Body Is My Body Program

3- Belief in development of awareness, making conversation between Iranian people and learning teammate activities to protect children.

Australia: Conference Calls for Mainstreaming Human Rights Education


An article by Neena Bhandari from InDepth News

More investment is needed in human rights education and strengthening of civil society to address inequality and sustainability – the main objectives of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This was the key message from the Ninth International Conference on Human Rights Education (ICHRE) held in Sydney, Australia.

A glimpse of the exhibition on human rights education. (Photo credit: NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning)

Drawing inspiration from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which marks its 70th Anniversary this year, the ICHRE 2018  (November 26-29) recommended all stakeholders to mainstream human rights education as a tool for social cohesion towards peaceful coexistence; and strive to bridge the significant gap between integrating human rights education in the curricula and its implementation.

“Beyond human rights education, people have to be enabled and empowered to exercise their inalienable rights, to live by those rights, and to uphold their rights and the rights of others,” said Dr Mmantsetsa Marope, Director of UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education, in her opening address.

She highlighted: “Three core factors – good governance, good health, and quality and relevant education – converge to enable and empower people to create and live a culture of human rights. These three factors are paramount, because they determine other factors that can facilitate or impede the realization of human rights.”

The sixth consultation of the implementation of UNESCO’s 1974 Recommendation  in 2016 reported that more effort was required to strengthening teachers’ capacity to implement human rights education.

Equitas – International Centre for Human Rights Education, which provides tools and training to teachers and people working with children to integrate human rights values and approaches in the work that they do, reaches out to 100,000 young people across 50 communities in Canada each year.

Equitas Executive Director Ian Hamilton told IDN, “Currently our programme is focused on helping to educate primary school children aged between 6 and 12 years and adolescent youth between 13 and 18 years.

“Through our program, Play It Fair  we use a series of games and activities to introduce human rights to children and encourage them to think critically about what is happening around them and how they can promote human rights values – equality, respect, inclusion and exclusion.

“For example, we ask children to play musical chairs the traditional way and then play a cooperative version and use that as an entry point to talk about inclusion and exclusion.”

Hamilton added: “We have seen that these tools also transform the people, who are working with children. They learn the content about the same time as the children, but it also makes them feel empowered, being equipped to deal with these issues.” 

Equitas also works with young adults using similar participatory approaches and results, and through its virtual forum:

Youth is the focus of the fourth phase  (2020-2024) of the UN World Programme for Human Rights Education launched in September 2018.

Elisa Gazzotti, Programme Coordinator and Co-chair NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning, Soka Gakkai International Office for UN Affairs in Geneva, told IDN, “We use the technique of storytelling to engage young people to share how through human rights education they were able to steer their lives in a positive direction and become fully engaged actors in their communities.”

“We organised a workshop here around Transforming Lives – the power of human rights education exhibition, which was co-organised by SGI together with global coalition for human rights education HRE2020, the NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning and others in 2017 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training. It shows how human rights education has transformed the lives of people in Burkina Faso, Peru, Portugal, Turkey and Australia,” Gazzotti added.

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Questions for this article:

How can we promote a human rights, peace based education?

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Arash Bordbar, a third-year engineering student at the Western Sydney University and Chair of the UNHCR Global Youth Advisory Council had fled Iran at the age of 15 years and stayed in Malaysia for five years before being resettled in Australia in 2015. He is now a youth worker at the Community Migrant Resource Centre, where he is supporting newly arrived migrants get education and find employment.

Similarly Apajok Biar, 23, who was born in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya and came to Australia in 1997 with her family under a Humanitarian visa, is chairperson and co-founder of South Sudan Voices of Salvation Inc, a not-for-profit youth run and led organisation. As youth participation officer at Cumberland Council in Sydney, she has been working to ensure that young people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to have a say in decisions that affect them at all levels – local, state, international.

“Knowledge of these rights can both improve relations between people of different ethnicity and belief, and nourish civil society,” said Dr Sev Ozdowski, Conference Convener and Director of Equity and Diversity at Western Sydney University.

Over 300 representatives from international human rights organisations, civil society, educational institutions, media and citizens participated in the ICHRE 2018, a series initiated by Dr Sev Ozdowski, to advance human rights education for the role it plays in furthering democracy, the rule of law, social harmony and justice.

While UDHR has been reinforced by several legal instruments, including conventions, charters, declarations, and national legislation, and the global discourse has broadened to include gender equality, people living with disabilities and LGBTIQ communities, the biggest challenge is the threat facing human rights organisations and defenders.

“That is the most dangerous threat because if we silence those voices then our capacity to educate and mobilise the public reduces and we will end up excluding most people,” Equitas Executive Director Hamilton told IDN.

In many countries, human rights are still not a priority. Tsering Tsomo, Executive Director of Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, an NGO based in Dharamsala (India) said: “In Tibet, the Chinese authoritarian regime has criminalised the UDHR itself by punishing people who translated the UDHR in Tibetan language and disseminated it amongst Tibetans.

“This happened in 1989 when 10 Tibetan monks were sent to jail for propagating the UDHR, just a year after the Chinese government publicly acknowledged the existence of Human Rights Day. Along with celebrating the 70th anniversary, we also observe the 30th anniversary of the imprisonment of the 10 Tibetan monks.”

UDHR holds the Guinness Book World Record as the most translated document. It is now available in more than 500 languages and dialects.

“In Tibet, there is a lot of rhetoric about human rights, but no implementation. Instead there is total impunity for the crimes committed by security forces and an upsurge in government spending on domestic security, which has long surpassed defence spending. This has resulted in a series of human rights violations.

“The challenge for the UN and human rights organisations is to counter the economic and political pressure exerted by powerful countries in reframing the international human rights discourse and in silencing critical civil society voices,” Tsomo told IDN.

Speaking on the path from UDHR to the World Programme for Human Rights Education, Cynthia Veliko, South-East Asia Regional Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Bangkok said: “The shocking retrenchment in leadership on human rights in many States across the globe over the past few years poses a real threat to the historic progress made, often painstakingly, over the decades that followed the 1948 adoption of the UDHR.”

“The continued realisation of the principles set out in the UDHR ultimately cannot be achieved without human rights education. It is an essential investment that is required to shape future world leaders with the principles of humanity and integrity that are required to build and sustain a humane world,” Veliko added.

The ICHRE 2018 Declaration  also raised concerns on the human rights implications of insufficient progress in climate change mitigation and adaptation, increasing food and water insecurity, rising sea levels, inter-state and internal conflict leading to increased migration, escalating new arms race among major powers, and rising levels of violence – particularly violence against women and children.

The Declaration called for greater awareness of the opportunities and risks of new forms of communication and media opportunities, which will help engage and reach more children and young adults, but also pose the threat of human rights abuse online.

(Thank you to the Global Campaign for Peace Education for calling our attention to this article.)

Amnesty International: Oppressive, sexist policies galvanize bold fight for women’s rights in 2018


An article from Amnesty International

Women activists around the world have been at the forefront of the battle for human rights in 2018, Amnesty International said today [December 7] as it launched its review on the state of human rights over the past year.

Photo copyright REUTERS/Vincent West

The human rights group also warns that the actions of “tough guy” world leaders pushing misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic policies has placed freedoms and rights that were won long ago in fresh jeopardy.

“In 2018, we witnessed many of these self-proclaimed ‘tough guy’ leaders trying to undermine the very principle of equality – the bedrock of human rights law. They think their policies make them tough, but they amount to little more than bully tactics trying to demonize and persecute already marginalized and vulnerable communities,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“But it is women activists who have offered the most powerful vision this year of how to fight back against these repressive leaders.”

The findings are published in “Rights Today”, a major review analysing the human rights situation in seven regions around the world: Africa, Americas, East Asia, Europe and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and South East Asia. The launch marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the first global bill of rights, which was adopted in 1948 by the world’s governments.

2018: Women rise up

The burgeoning power of women’s voices should not be underestimated, notes the review. While women’s rights movements are well established, female activists have dominated the biggest human rights headlines from the past year.  And women-led groups like Latin America’s Ni una menos have galvanised mass movements on women’s rights issues on a scale not seen before.

In India and South Africa, thousands took to the streets to protest endemic sexual violence. In Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively, women activists risked arrest to resist the driving ban and forced hijab(veiling). In Argentina, Ireland and Poland, demonstrators rallied in vast numbers to demand an end to oppressive abortion laws. In the USA, Europe and parts of Asia, millions joined the second #MeToo-led women’s march to demand an end to misogyny and abuse.

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(Click here for a Spanish version of this article or here for a French version.)

Question(s) related to this article:

What is the state of human rights in the world today?

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However, the report notes that we cannot celebrate the “the stratospheric resurgence of women’s activism” without addressing the driving force behind why so many women have mobilised to demand change.

“Women’s rights have consistently been placed a rung below other rights and freedoms by governments who believe they can pay lip service to these issues while doing little in reality to protect the rights of half the population” said Kumi Naidoo.

Rights Today points to a growing body of policies and laws designed to subjugate and control women, especially around sexual and reproductive health. These include a push from Polish and Guatemalan law-makers to advocate for stricter abortion laws, while in the USA, funding cuts to family planning clinics have put the health of millions of women at risk.

Women activists have risked their lives and freedoms to bring to light human rights injustices. They include Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian child activist who was unjustly imprisoned for daring to stand up for her people; Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef, three activists who are now detained in Saudi Arabia for campaigning on women’s rights; and Marielle Franco, who was brutally murdered in Brazil earlier this year because she fearlessly fought for human rights.

2019: A landmark year to turn the tide on women’s rights

Kumi Naidoo noted that the anniversary of the international bill of rights for women in 2019 – the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – will be an important milestone that the world cannot afford to overlook.

The bill, which will turn 40 next year, is widely adopted. Yet many governments have only adopted it under the condition that they can reject major provisions that are designed to secure women’s freedoms, such as pursuing a national policy to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in law and practice and committing to eliminating discrimination against women in marriage and family relations.

Amnesty International is urging governments to take action to ensure that women’s rights are upheld – this includes not only commitments to international standards, but changes to harmful national laws and proactive measures to empower women and protect their rights.

“The fact that so many countries have only partially accepted the international bill of women’s rights is evidence that many governments think protecting women’s rights is just a PR exercise to make them look good, rather than a priority they need to address urgently,” said Kumi Naidoo.

“All around the world, women on average earn far less than their male peers, have far less job security, are denied access to political representation by those in power, and face endemic sexual violence that governments continue to ignore. We have to ask ourselves why this is. If we lived in a world where in fact it was men facing this kind of persecution, would this injustice be allowed to continue?

“I want to acknowledge that Amnesty International can and should do more on women’s rights. As we enter 2019, I believe now, more than ever, we must stand firm with women’s movements, amplify women’s voices in all their diversity and fight for the recognition of all our rights.”

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.)

Colombia: Today the Truth Commission begins its mandate


An article from El Espectador (translation by CPNN)

The Truth Commission, which was born out of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, begins its mandate this Thursday [November 29] to clarify what happened during half a century of armed conflict.

With a symbolic ceremony, held in Corferias de Bogotá, this Thursday will begin on the day zero of this extrajudicial entity, which, for three years, will be challenged to hear, understand and interpret the voices of the actors of the armed conflict.

Its mission: to build a final report that establishes patterns of violence and facts of victimization. In the words of Father Francisco de Roux, president of the Truth Commission, from this day we are on a path that seeks reconciliation and that we will not repeat what happened.

“We hope we can contribute to Colombia seeking the truth in a sincere, transparent way, which is a public good and is the responsibility of all of us in Colombia. We hope to contribute in depth with our communication and pedagogy and with the Casas de la Verdad that we are starting to open in different regions in the form of a mobile team with the communities,” he said in an interview with the Justice for Peace chapter of Colombia2020 .

They will be eleven commissioners of the truth – accompanied by an interdisciplinary team – who will go to nine regions of the country and through mobile groups will collect testimonies from all sectors that will voluntarily provide information on the most serious facts of the conflict.

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(Click here for the original Spanish version of this article.)


Question related to this article:

Truth Commissions, Do they improve human rights?

What is happening in Colombia, Is peace possible?

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“This division of the country, and the location of the 26 houses of truth, are the product of the six months of work carried out by the Commission. During this time they also defined patterns of victimization that they intend to study, for example, torture, forced displacement, sexual violence, etc.,” said Truth Commissioner Saul Franco.

In addition to victim organizations, other organizations have approached the Commission, including members of the Military Forces, members of the former FARC and paramilitaries. However, as De Roux acknowledged, the political sector has not approached them. Former President Ernesto Samper – he revealed – has been one of the few who has expressed his intention to give his testimony before the Truth Commission.

It should be remembered that the truth commission is an extrajudicial entity that will not make judgments or assign individual responsibilities. “We must be aware that testifying to the Commission has an advantage: we are not judges, we are not going to punish anyone. We will protect the testimonies we receive. We have to use them to interpret what happened, unless the person who brings it says: ‘I want to give this testimony in public, because I want to contribute in a public impact to the transformation of the country.’ “, said Roux.

For Juan Carlos Ospina, coordinator of Advocacy of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, the challenges of the commission can be summarized in three points: first, organize its work to address the knowledge of the armed conflict, which is very extensive and complex, in just three years ; second, to allow the widest participation of victims and citizens, and to manage expectations adequately (with publicity and transparency) about their work. Third, build trust from the beginning. Listen to all the actors in the conflict and generate conditions for the construction of a culture of peace (respect, coexistence, reconciliation, co-responsibility and non-repetition) based on their work. Fourth, carry out its work (keeping in mind its complexity) not to judge wherever possible in view of the adverse scenario for peace created by the change of government and congress.

Finally, another of the Commission’s challenges is to face the resistances of the sectors that question their positions and their suitability. The wide variety of voices and the inclusiveness of the story, as the commissioners affirm, will be decisive for their legitimacy.

Paris: World summit brings surge of new commitments to protect human rights defenders


A press release from the International Federation for Human Rights

Human rights defenders from across all corners of the world gathered this week [31 October] in Paris for the Human Rights Defenders World Summit, to develop a plan of action for how to protect and promote the work of activists fighting for rights, 20 years on from the first UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

After three days of discussions and strategy development spanning regional and global issues, environmental rights and women human rights defenders and the increasing attacks on human rights defenders everywhere, the momentum culminated in the presentation of a landmark action plan which will be presented to the UN in December.

(Click on photo to enlarge)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who spoke at the opening ceremony said: “What human rights defenders teach us is that all of us can stand up for our rights and for the rights of others, in our neighborhoods, in our countries and all over the world. We can change the world .”

The Summit discussed calls on Governments, corporations, international financial institutions, donors and others, including the adoption of national governmental action plans, implementation of legislation to legally uphold the UN declaration, protecting defenders as a priority in foreign policy and prioritizing the protection and work of women human rights defenders, LGBT+, indigenous rights defenders and other marginalized defenders.

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Question related to this article:

What is the state of human rights in the world today?

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Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “The level of danger facing activists worldwide has reached crisis point. Every day ordinary people are threatened, tortured, imprisoned and killed for what they fight for or simply for who they are. Now is the time to act and tackle the global surge in repression of human rights defenders.”

The closing ceremony took place at the Palais de Chaillot, where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed 70 years ago. The 150 defenders gathered together to set out the Action Plan and pay tribute to the men and women who work tirelessly to defend human rights around the world.

Among those in attendance over the last three days were Alice Mogwe, Secretary General of FIDH and the Director of Botswana Ditshwanelo; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia, who is calling for justice after his mother, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was assassinated one year ago in Malta; Anielle Franco, who is bravely campaigning on behalf of her sister, Marielle Franco, a Brazilian activist and elected councillor who was shot dead in her car seven months ago.

Hina Jilani, President of OMCT, founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and the first UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders said: “States have never given us space. It is because of human rights defenders that there is space for civil society. Seeing you all here engaged in defending human rights, I am not too pessimistic. As a movement, we have never been as global as we are now. But we have to be clear to states: you need to live up to the challenge and speak out for defenders. Human rights don’t come for free .”

The 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

In 1998, governments adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to acknowledge the key role of human rights defenders. Despite progress in some areas, many governments are continuing to fall short of their commitments 20 years on from the first Summit and the global context in which human rights defenders operate in has become increasingly challenging. Democratic values are under threat and systemic corruption, extreme inequality and discrimination, religious fundamentalism and extremist policies are all on the rise. Alongside this, we have seen a concerted effort to undermine, discredit and kill human rights defenders. In 2017, at least 312 human rights defenders were assassinated, twice as many as in 2015, almost all with impunity for the perpetrators. The Action Plan hopes to tackle these injustices and support Human Rights Defenders to continue their critical work in a safe environment.

USA: Planned Parenthood Strikes Back: Preparing for the Worst in the Wake of Kavanaugh’s Confirmation


A blog by Miranda Martin for MS Magazine

Photo John Bright / Creative Commons

Planned Parenthood isn’t waiting to see if the worst has yet to come for Roe v. Wade in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Instead, they’re planning to launch a multi-million dollar, nationwide campaign to ensure that abortion remains accessible—even if the landmark decision legalizing it nationwide is overturned.

Photo John Bright / Creative Commons

Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Court  tips the scales against Roe  for the first time since it was decided in 1973; he would likely cast the fifth vote necessary to overturn the decision  and give states the power, once again, to criminalize abortion providers and their patients. Kavanaugh’s record shows that he is hostile to reproductive freedoms. Should Roe be overturned, women in over 20 states across the country could lose access to safe and legal abortion overnight.

According to Planned Parenthood, overturning Roe would leave over 25 million women with access to safe, legal abortion in their own state, including over 4.3 million Latina women and almost 3.5 million Black women of reproductive age.

Planned Parenthood has been preparing for such a moment since President Trump’s election in 2016. Trump ran on a platform of outlawing abortion and talked about “punishing” women who elect to undergo the procedure on the campaign trail; his administration has consistently attacked women’s access to reproductive health care and undermined their bodily autonomy.

“We know that we’ll need an ironclad network of states and providers across the country where abortion will still be legal and accessible,” Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens told the New York Times,  “no matter what happens at the Supreme Court.”

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Questions related to this article:

The post-election fightback for human rights, is it gathering force in the USA?

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The “Care for All” campaign, at face value, is simple: In states where abortion access is at risk, Planned Parenthood will mobilize against legislation that further restricts or outlaws abortion. In states where abortion access will likely remain in place even with Roe, they’ll work to expand access, opening more clinics and hiring more staff in order to keep them open for longer hours in order to accommodate women crossing state lines in pursuit of care. They’ll offer women traveling long distances transportation assistance through a Regional Access Network and push to expand telemedicine abortion access, in place now in 14 states, for those who can’t make the trip. The organization’s efforts will manifest first in states where abortion policies fall short of those in place along both coasts, specifically Illinois.

“In 2018 alone, advocates introduced 869 positive measures expanding reproductive health care—the highest number of policies introduced to advance reproductive rights in a single legislative session ever,” the organization noted in a press release announcing the new multi-pronged effort. “In tandem, advocates and pro-women’s health legislators blocked or delayed 93 percent of the state-level abortion restrictions introduced in the 2018 legislative session. Now, Planned Parenthood Action Fund will kick off the 2019 legislative session by doubling down on this work.”

Abortion access remains at risk even if Roe remains in place as long as a majority of Justices sitting on the Supreme Court are opposed to reproductive freedoms. Rulings in smaller cases on abortion and contraception are now likely to result in outcomes which further inhibit access, allow for obstruction and increase the burdens imposed on women seeking care.

In order to proactively shift cultural perceptions around abortion—and thus provide a buffer against further attacks on women’s reproductive rights—the organization also plans to engage with media more effectively and more often in order to smash stigma and break the silence around what is a safe and common medical procedure with widespread public support. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that Planned Parenthood is popular even amongst conservative voters: 57 percent  of Trump voters oppose women being restricted from accessing birth control, healthcare and cancer screenings.

In advance of their 2019 campaign kick-off, Planned Parenthood is doing all they can to mobilize pro-choice voters with a 20 million dollar  effort in coalition with other like-minded organizations. In total, they predict that they will engage 2.5 million voters  before the midterm elections on November 6.

“We know this is a winnable fight,” the organization told the New York Times  in a statement. “Each of us deserves the right to control our own bodies, including the right to decide if and when to become a parent.”

Sepur Zarco case: The Guatemalan women who rose for justice in a war-torn nation


An article from UN Women (abridged)

During the 36-year-long Guatemalan civil war, indigenous women were systematically raped and enslaved by the military in a small community near the Sepur Zarco outpost. What happened to them then was not unique, but what happened next, changed history. From 2011 – 2016, 15 women survivors fought for justice at the highest court of Guatemala. The groundbreaking case resulted in the conviction of two former military officers of crimes against humanity and granted 18 reparation measures to the women survivors and their community.

Maria Ba Call with members of her family. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

The abuelas of Sepur Zarco, as the women are respectfully referred to, are now waiting to experience justice. Justice, for them, includes education for the children of their community, access to land, a health care clinic and such measures that will end the abject poverty their community has endured across generations. Justice must be lived.

The day the military came to take her husband and son is etched into Maria Ba Caal’s memory, but some of the details are fading. “When my husband and my 15-year old son were taken away, they were working men. The army came in the afternoon and took them away… I don’t remember the date, but that was the last time I saw my husband and son,” she said.

It’s been 36 years since that day. Maria Ba Caal is now 77 years old.

Like many other Maya Q’eqchi’ women of Sepur Zarco, a small rural community in the Polochic Valley of north-eastern Guatemala, Ba Caal is still looking for the remains of her husband and son who were forcibly disappeared and most likely killed by the Guatemalan army in the early 1980s.

The Guatemalan conflict

The Guatemalan internal armed conflict[1] dates back to 1954 when a military coup ousted the democratically elected President, Jacobo Arbenz. The subsequent military rulers reversed the land reforms that benefited the poor (mostly indigenous) farmers, triggering 36 years of armed conflict between the military and left-wing guerilla groups and cost more than 200,000 lives. Majority of those killed—83 per cent—were indigenous Maya people.[2] . . . .

In 1982[3], the military set up a rest outpost in Sepur Zarco. The Q’eqchi leaders of the area were seeking legal rights to their land at the time. The military retaliated with forced disappearance, torture and killing of indigenous men, and rape and slavery of the women.

“They burnt our house. We didn’t go to the Sepur military base (rest outpost) by choice…they forced us. They accused us of feeding the guerillas. But we didn’t know the guerillas. I had to leave my children under a tree to go and cook for the military… and…” Maria Ba Caal leaves that sentence unfinished. It hangs in the air as we sit in front of her mud shack. Her great grandchildren are playing nearby. She cries quietly.

Rape and sexual slavery are not words that translate easily into Q’eqchi. “We were forced to take turns,” she continues. “If we didn’t do what they told us to do, they said they would kill us.”

For years afterwards, Maria Ba Caal and other women who were enslaved by the military were shunned by their own communities and called prostitutes. Guatemala’s civil war was not only one of the deadliest in the region, it also left behind a legacy of violence against women.

The community of Sepur Zarco has about 226 families today. From the nearest town of Panzós, it’s a 42 Km drive down a dusty road that hasn’t been fully paved.

A few miles before Sepur Zarco stands the skeleton frameworks of a farm house in Tinajas Farm, surrounded by corn fields. In May 2012, the Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala [the anthropological and forensic foundation of Guatemala] exhumed 51 bodies of indigenous peoples from this site, killed and buried in mass graves by the Guatemalan military. The evidence from Tinajas was one of the turning points in the Sepur Zarco case.

Paula Barrios, who heads Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (Women Transforming the World) explained that the indigenous communities living around the area believed that more than 200 men were brought here and never seen again.

“This was the truth of the Q’eqchi’ people, but we had to prove that the stories were true. The exhumation continued for 22 days and cost Q.100,000 (USD 13,500). Some families heard and came to the site, hoping to find their lost ones. Women from the Sepur Zarco community came and cooked for the crew. For four days they dug and dug but didn’t find any bodies. The anthropologists said that the next day would be the last day.”

“They found the first body the next day.”

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In 2011, 15[4] women survivors of Sepur Zarco—now respectfully called the abuelas (grandmothers)—took their case to the highest court of Guatemala, with the support of local women’s rights organizations, UN Women and other UN partners.

After 22 hearings, on 2 March 2016, the court convicted two former military officers of crimes against humanity on counts of rape, murder and slavery, and granted 18 reparation measures to the women survivors and their communities. This was the first time in history that a national court prosecuted sexual slavery during conflict using national legislation and international criminal law.

The abuelas fought for justice and reparations not only for themselves, but for change that would benefit the entire community. The court sentence promised to reopen the files on land claims, set up a health centre, improve the infrastructure for the primary school and open a new secondary school, as well as offer scholarships for women and children—measures that can lift them out of the abject poverty they continue to endure.

“When we took our case to court, we believed we would win, because we told the truth,” said Maria Ba Caal. “To me it’s very important that our voice and our history is known to our country so that what we lived through never happens to anyone else.”

As part of the reparation measures, civil society organizations worked with the Guatemalan Ministry of Education to develop a comic book for children, which narrates the history of Sepur Zarco. The book will be distributed in secondary schools across Guatemala City, as well as in the municipalities of Alta Verapaz area.

Only one of the 11 surviving abuelas who fought for the groundbreaking case has a home in Sepur Zarco. Most of the others live in the surrounding communities of San Marcos, La Esperanza and Pombaac in make-shift homes. There’s a small plot of land behind the women’s centre that’s now under construction, which has been promised to the abuelas for building their homes.

Maria Ba Caal and Felisa Cuc gave us a tour of the area. Felisa Cuc is 81 years old, and is waiting for her home. She wants a house of brick and tin.

“When I heard the sentence, I was very happy. I thought my life will improve. But at this moment, I don’t know if I will live long enough to see the results.”

Doña Felisa has had a hard life. The soldiers took her husband away in 1982 and tortured him. He was never seen again. “I was raped, along with my two daughters who were young married women then. Their husbands had left… We tried to escape, we sought shelter in abandoned houses, but the soldiers found us. My daughters were raped in front of me.”

The Sepur Zarco military rest outpost closed by 1988 and the conflict formally ended in 1996 with the signing of the peace agreement. But the abuelas continued to scramble for a bit of dignity, a bit of land, and food.

Doña Felisa took us to her home in Pombaac, walking through dirt roads across corn fields. The last house in Pombaac is hers.

“There are so many needs,” she said. “At this moment, I need something to eat. No one knows how much longer I will live. I need land for my children. Perhaps if they have land to cultivate they can help me, feed me.”

Out of all the reparation measures, land restitution is perhaps one of the most critical ones, but difficult to implement since much of the land being claimed is held privately. The President has to appoint an institution and the Ministry of Finance has to provide a budget to the institution to buy the privately held land and then redistribute it.

One reparation measure that has had some traction is the free mobile health clinic, which serves 70 – 80 people every day. “We had to walk long to get to a clinic, but now it’s closer. Each community takes turn to take care of the clinic. Many women from my community have received medicines, but there are sicknesses that cannot be treated here…we dream of a hospital that can treat all our illnesses,” explained Rosario Xo, one of the abuelas.

Demesia Yat, an outspoken figure among the abuelas, recognizes how far they have come and also what’s at stake: “Our effort, first as women, and second as grandmothers, is very important. It’s true that we got justice. We are now asking for education for our children and grandchildren so that the youth in the community have opportunities and aren’t like their elders who could not study. Our claims are with the government. We waited for many years for justice, now we have to wait for reparations.”

The Sepur Zarco case is about justice, as shaped by women who endured untold horror and loss, and today they are demanding to experience that justice in their everyday lives.


[1] The conflict in Guatemala is officially referred as the “internal armed conflict”.

[2] The timeline has been corroborated with facts from the following sources: Memory of Silence: The Guatemalan Truth Commission Report; Case Study Series: Women in Peace and Transition Processes and Timeline: Guatemala’s Brutal Civil War by PBS News Hour

[3] For more facts and figures, see

[4] The lawsuit was based on the violation of 15 women from Sepur Zarco, but the court could only verify the evidence of 11 of them as three of the victims died.

Why India’s Solar Water-Drawing ATMs and Irrigation Pumping Systems Offer Replicable Strategies


An article from The Inter Press Service News Agency (reprinted by permission)

At New Delhi’s Savda Ghevra slum settlement, waterborne diseases have become less frequent thanks to solar-powered water ATMs that were installed here as a social enterprise venture three years ago.

“The water is cheap, reliable and fresh-tasting,” Saeeda, a mother of three who lives close to an ATM, tells IPS. Each day, Saeeda collects up to 15 litres of water from the ATM, paying 30 paisa per litre for the water with a rechargeable card. It means she pays 4.5 Rupees (about 6 US cents) for 15 litres of pure drinking water. It is convenient and cheap as bottled drinking water costs about 20 Rupees (about 30 US cents).

A man draws water from a solar-powered water ATM in New Delhi’s Savda Ghevra slum settlement. Thanks to these machines, which allow users to withdraw water with a rechargeable card, waterborne diseases have become less frequent here. Credit: Ranjit Devraj/IPS

Installed by Piramal Sarvajal, as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility, the decentralised drinking water project for urban slums now provides access to clean water to some 10,000 families in six slum clusters, Amit Mishra, the project’s operations manager, tells IPS.

Mishra says that each water ATM, though locally operated through a franchise system and powered using solar panels, is centrally controlled through cloud technology that integrates 1,100 touch points in 16 states. The result is reduced costs that allow round-the-clock provision of pure drinking water to underserved communities.
Sarvajal Piramal is not the only group that has set up solar-powered water ATMs in New Delhi or other parts of Delhi. Solar-powered water ATMs are part of a plan to use solar power to supply water for India’s vast 1.3 billion people, not only for drinking, but also for agricultural use.

“This is the kind of decentralised, neighbourhood solutions that the Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI) is interested in,” the Netherlands-based group’s deputy director and water sector lead, Peter Vos, tells IPS. “However, solutions of this type may not be ideal in all situations, since the networks may require a lot of maintenance and can be costly.”

GGGI, says Vos, is interested in promoting policies that allow efficient use of limited water resources sustainably and at reasonable cost. “We do this by embedding ourselves in key ministries concerned with renewable energy, rural development as well as water and sanitation.”

Currently, GGGI has an approved budget of USD 1.37 million dollars for knowledge sharing, transfer of green technologies and capacity building in order to meet global commitments towards implementation of India’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris agreement. “Facilitating the flow of domestic and international climate finance and investment would be a key contribution to support India’s NDC implementation,” Vos says.

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Questions related to this article:

Is the right to water a basic human right?

Are we making progress in renewable energy?

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India’s setting up of the International Solar Alliance, an alliance that facilitates cooperation among sun-rich countries, provides GGGI an opportunity to disseminate renewable energy best practices with 18 GGGI member countries and seven partner countries—India and China are partner countries and prospective members.

As a predominantly agricultural country, with the world’s largest irrigated area serviced by some 26 million groundwater pumps mostly run on diesel or electricity, GGGI is keenly interested in India’s plans to switch to the use of solar power for irrigation.

Electric pumps are considered unreliable and diesel is costly. To keep them running, India spends about USD 6 million in annual subsidies that create their own distortions. Farmers tend to waste electricity as well as water thanks to the subsidies, Vos explains.

Under India’s National Solar Mission programme, farmers are now supported with capital cost subsidies for solar pump systems. A credit-linked subsidy scheme invites local institutions across the country to provide loans to reduce the subsidy burden on the government and make the system affordable for farmers.

According to a GGGI study released in 2017, the ‘context-specific delivery models’ used in the solar pump programme have resulted in noteworthy initial successes in terms of economic and social benefits, emission reductions, reduced reliance on subsides, increased agricultural output, development of new businesses, job-creation and improved incomes and livelihoods in rural areas.

India’s models offer replicable strategies to support solar irrigation pumping systems in other countries where GGGI has a presence, says Vos. In fact, the Indian government has plans to export solar pumping systems and expertise to countries interested in greener alternatives for irrigation.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), irrigation is becoming an important part of global agricultural production, consuming about 70 percent of global freshwater resources and reliable irrigation. However, using solar-powered systems can increase crop yields four-fold and can be key to national objectives like achieving food security.

Over the last 25 years India’s ministry of new and renewable energy, a GGGI partner, has developed specialised programmes for both drinking water as well as irrigation systems using solar water pumping systems of which there are now an estimated 15,000 units.

The progress has not been entirely without a hitch and, so far, the solar water-pumping market has remained relatively small primarily due to high up-front capital costs and low awareness among farmers as well as users of drinking water provided through ATMs.

A study of the Savda Ghevra slum showed that it took 18 months before the first ATM could be provided to Piramal Sarvajal. And then only 37 percent of the residents were using the ATMs as a primary or secondary source of potable water.

The study found that the ATMs were more than covering operating costs and generating revenue for Piramal Sarvajal, and could reach a wider population with government or other support, especially in the rural areas. The monies generated by Piramal Sarvajal are used to pay salaries and to maintain the machines.

According to the government’s own figures, presented in parliament in 2017; out of 167.8 million households in rural India only 2.9 million or 16 percent have access to safe drinking water. GGGI with its  considerable experience and expertise around the world is well-placed to step in, says Vos.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.)

INTERVIEW: ‘Defend the people, not the States’, says outgoing UN human rights chief


An article from the United Nations News Service

For four years, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been taking governments across the world to task, exposing human rights violations and robustly advocating for the rights of victims.

His appointment by the Secretary-General back in 2014 was a landmark: he became the first Asian, Muslim and Arab ever to hold the post.

OHCHR: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights meeting with indigenous community leaders in Guatemala. November 2017.

Before that, Zeid had already enjoyed a long and distinguished career, both at the UN and as a Jordanian diplomat. He served his country in several capacities, notably as Ambassador to the United States, and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, with a stint as President of the Security Council in January 2014.

Throughout his career, Zeid has demonstrated a commitment to international law, playing a major role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, as the first President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – turning the court from an idea into a reality – and, eight years later, overseeing the legal definition of the crime of aggression and the court’s jurisdiction over it.

In his last major interview with UN News, the UN human rights chief tells us that the “real pressure on this job comes from the victims and those who suffer and expect a great deal from us.”

“Governments are more than capable of defending themselves. It’s not my job to defend them. I have to defend civil society, vulnerable groups, the marginalized, the oppressed. Those are the people that we, in our office, need to represent,” he adds, noting that “oppression is making a comeback”.

When asked about whether his view of the UN and what it can achieve has diminished during his time spent speaking out loudly in defence of the abused and defenceless over the past four years, he says:

“It’s very difficult to tolerate abuse of the UN when I keep thinking of the heroic things that people do in the field, whether the humanitarian actors or humanitarian personnel, my human rights people, the people who are monitoring or observing. And I take my hat off to them. I mean, they are the UN that I will cherish and remember.”

UN News: When you compare the human rights landscape today to when you took over the UN human rights office back in 2014, what are the key differences that you see?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: When I took over, it coincided with the terrible videos put online by Daesh, or ISIS, which stoked a great deal of fear and horror. And we began to see a sort of a deepening of the crisis in Syria and in Iraq. And this then folded into two things:

One, a great determination to embark on counter-terrorism strategies, which we felt were, in part, excessive in certain respects. Every country has an obligation to defend its people, and the work of terrorism is odious and appalling and needs to be condemned and faced. But whenever there is excessive action, you don’t just turn one person against the State, you turn the whole family against the State. Ten or maybe more members could end up moving in the direction of the extremists.

And then, the migration debates, and the strengthening of the demagogues and those who made hay out of what was happening in Europe for political profit. As each year passed, we began to see a more intense pressure on the human rights agenda.

UN News: You have been very outspoken and you’ve called out governments and individual leaders around the world who have abused human rights. Do you see that as the most important role for the UN human rights chief?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: Yes. At the Human Rights High Commission, you’re part of the UN, but also part of the human rights movement and both are equally important. As I said on earlier occasions, governments are more than capable of defending themselves. It’s not my job to defend them. I have to defend civil society, vulnerable groups, the marginalized, the oppressed. Those are the people that we, in our office, need to represent.

I always felt that that is the principle task: we provide technical assistance, we collect information, we go public on it. But in overall terms, the central duty for us is to defend the rights of those most marginalized and those that need it.

UN News: what if you come under pressure to stay silent?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: Well, the interesting thing is that the pressure on this particular job doesn’t really come very much from the governments. They all attack the office because we criticize all of them, but we also point to areas where there is improvement, and I sometimes will praise the government for doing the right thing.

The real pressure on this job comes from the victims and those who suffer and expect a great deal from us. That’s the pressure that I think matters most in terms of the need to do the right thing.

UN News: Have there been times, therefore, when you’ve had to compromise a bit too much and maybe even let rights campaigners down in some way?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: No, not in that sense because I think I’ve been outspoken enough and I think I broke new ground when it came to High Commissioners. I can tell you in almost every meeting I sit with governments and I say things that I know they would never have heard before from someone in the UN.

No, the enormity of the suffering of people creates a feeling of inadequacy that, no matter what I do —an interview like this, a press conference, a report — it’s not going to restore a disappeared son or daughter to his or her mother. I know it won’t end the practice of torture immediately. I know that the residents in an IDP [Internally Displaced Peoples] camp, are not going to next day be moved into something more improved.

And that feeling is the pressure that I’m speaking about. It’s this sort of feeling that no matter what I do, it’s unequal to the colossal challenge that stands before us.

UN News: Have there been times when you thought it best to use quiet diplomacy to work behind the scenes?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: We’re always trying. We’re always trying to use quiet diplomacy. I mean, we’re constantly meeting with governments, and I send letters, and we conduct phone calls.

But on occasion we make a determination that we’ve tried these tracks, it hasn’t worked, and that I’m going to go public. Sometimes, I asked my spokesperson to do it; sometimes, I ask my regional office to do it; and other times, I’ll do it myself. But it’s carefully thought through.

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Question for this article:

Where in the world can we find good leadership today?

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There was one foreign minister, for example, I needed to speak to. We were planning to send a technical mission to his country and, for almost a year, he avoided me. I saw him here in the GA [General Assembly] and he said, “Yes, yes, yes,” and then just avoided me. So then, we got a message to him that I’m going to go public tomorrow, and he was on the phone right away.

And the lesson learned was that if you don’t sometimes threaten to speak out, you don’t grab their attention. And I would rather err on the speaking out part than staying silent.

I first worked with the UN in 1994, 1995 in the former Yugoslavia. And I saw what catastrophes silence can bring. And I think from that point on, I was determined not to be silent when the evidence before us was presented.

UN News: What’s touched you most personally in the job? What have been those moments, the encounters with people that have meant the most to you?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: There have been many. I think it’s very hard to listen to the suffering of people. One of the times was when I went to the Ilopango detention centre in El Salvador. [Four young women] had been sentenced to 30 years in prison. They claimed these were obstetric emergencies: miscarriages. The State claimed that these were terminations of pregnancy.

When I sat with them – I had with me a full team, my office, assistants and interpreters – I think within the space of about 10 minutes we were all weeping; we were in tears because their suffering was so extreme. One of them was telling us how her foetus was on the ground and rather than take her to a hospital, they handcuffed her and took her to prison. And I thought the cruelty, the capacity for human cruelty is amazing.

I saw the president after that and I said, “Why is it that all these girls are poor? Every single one of them?” It’s as if it’s only the poor that face these sorts of conditions. This is the point that really strikes home that time and again: the poor suffer all the consequences. And that for me was a moment that will always remain with me. And there have been quite a few like that.

UN News: Is there a specific moment that stands out as being the most difficult or perhaps even the most consequential during your tenure?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: It’s all been difficult. When you’re defending the rights of people, and there’s so much pressure exerted upon you from this deep inner need or desire to help them, it’s all quite tough.

But I take inspiration from the amazing human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, activists in so many countries who do amazing, brave things to highlight the plight of others; to defend the rights of others. Whatever I may want to complain about day in, day out, it’s nothing compared to the pressure that these people face, confront, overcome — often they have no fear.

These are the real leaders; these are the people that inspire. Not many of the politicians who claim to be leaders and are weak and self-serving, and are leaders in name only. The real leaders are the ones who, against all odds, will do the right thing and then often pay a price for it, and be detained for it.

And I think that’s what keeps us fuelled and working on their behalf.

Again, the point to be made is that, yes, we are part of the UN, but we’re also part of a human rights movement. The UN is creating order amongst States: with us, we look at the heart of the relationship between the governing and the governed and so, of course, it’s going to be sensitive.

People have their rights, the States have their obligations, their commitments. And we have to defend the people.

UN News: Where do you think you’ve made the biggest difference, personally? And have you made mistakes?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: I don’t know. The question ought to be addressed to civil society, victims’ groups, human rights defenders. And if they said, “Zeid has done a good job,” I’d be very content with that. If they said, “Zeid could have done better,” I’d have to learn to live with it and accept it. It’s really for them to quantify the extent to which I have achieved something or whether they think that I was able to undertake my responsibilities in the right manner.

UN News: you said that being High Commissioner for Human Rights is a unique job within the UN, and you seem to have followed a fairly similar path to your predecessors in making yourself unpopular with governments. Do you want to see your successor sticking to that path?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: The fundamental point that I mentioned earlier is that the States can defend themselves. Our job is not to defend the States, and the law is there for the protection of the weak, not in defence of the strong.

And so, we look at the law, we look at the obligations of States, and our job is to defend the individual victims, vulnerable communities, marginalized communities, or oppressed communities.

Oppression is making a comeback. Repression is fashionable again.

And so, I don’t believe anyone holding this position — even if they felt differently — can ultimately conduct business in a manner that departs too radically from the way that I, or my predecessors, have done it. If you try to depart, it will be extremely unpleasant for you because you’re going to hear it from the very people who are suffering. And there can be nothing that will tear at your conscience more, if you abandoned them. So, my belief is that the job defines the conduct.

UN News: Is there any other key advice you’d give?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: I would always say be in good health because it is a demanding job, and it is taxing. Whoever takes this job has to be ready for it. Some jobs in the UN system are viewed as sinecures, retirement posts for national officials. This is not one of them. This requires complete commitment.

UN News: For you, where to next? And as a seasoned ex-diplomat with so much UN experience, how has doing this job changed your view of the world?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: I don’t know, maybe I’ll be a journalist!

I’ve been away from my family; I need to spend time with them and then I’ll look and see what new direction I’d want to take myself. But I need a rest as well.

UN News: having walked this tightrope, do you feel perhaps a little more appreciative of what the UN does, or perhaps a little less?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: No, if I were to, in the future, think of the UN, I would think of the moments in the field where I see the UN doing amazing things.

It’s very difficult to tolerate abuse of the UN when I keep thinking of the heroic things that people do in the field, whether they be humanitarian personnel, my human rights people, the people who are monitoring, observing, with some threat to themselves: I take my hat off to them. They are the UN that I will cherish and remember.

To the outside world, the jargon, the terminology, seems inaccessible. I think that the work that UN personnel do in the field is much more understandable. That’s how I entered the UN, in the field, and that’s how I got to know it. And I think that’s where the UN has enormous impact and needs to continue to make the investment and do the right thing.
And you can also hear Zeid articulating his passion for international justice in a recent UN News podcast  in which he interviewed Ben Ferencz who, at 99 years of age, is the last surviving prosecutor of the post-war Nuremberg military tribunals and was one of the leading campaigners for an international court.

(Thank you to Phyllis Kotite, the CPNN reporter for this article.)