U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Condemns Recent Atrocities

February 11, 2015 —

Speaking at Georgetown Law at the conclusion of his first official visit to the United States on February 6, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein expressed “anger and disgust” at the “horrendous killing” of fellow Jordanian Muath al-Kaseasbeh in Syria earlier in the week. He also condemned other recent atrocities committed by “people of annihilated conscience” against victims including Japanese, American and British captives and children. 

“Let us be clear: killing and torturing defenseless captives is a betrayal of the Islamic tradition,” declared Zeid, speaking from McDonough Hall at a press briefing hosted by the Law Center’s Human Rights Institute.  

“It is forbidden in customary law. It is forbidden in international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions and, prior to that, the Hague Regulations. In human experience it is forbidden, period,” he said. 

Zeid said that a security response alone to such atrocities as the burning of captured pilot al-Kaseasbeh by Islamic State extremists is not adequate. “We have been responding in that way for more than a decade now and yet these groups have simply spread and grown like some particularly virulent cancer, feeding off our efforts to contain them.” 

We must fight their ideas with better ones, he said. “Tackle the hopelessness and disillusion that is providing them with the apparent endless stream of young men and even young women.”

Following his brief remarks, Zeid fielded questions from journalists about the Jordanian government’s response to the killing, the crisis in Ukraine and preventing exceptions to human rights violations in times of war. Members of the Georgetown Law community and media outlets including Al-Jazeera, C-SPAN, Fox News, the New Republic and NHK attended the press briefing.

Earlier in the morning, the Human Rights Institute hosted a discussion between Zeid and a small group of students and faculty including Professor Andrew I. Schoenholtz, who directs the Human Rights Institute, and Adjunct Professor Ian Kysel (L’11). Zeid’s staff chose to come to Georgetown Law and meet with the Human Rights Institute on the recommendation of members of the D.C. human rights community, Kysel said.

Zeid’s visit to Washington is the first official trip for a U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in eight years.

“We are in a very grave period, confronted by a phenomenon we have failed to comprehend,” Zeid said. “How we handle or mishandle these issues may affect us in increasingly unpredictable ways for many years to come.” 

A webcast is available here. C-SPAN video is available here. 


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