Robinson’s Departure a “Disappointment”
Human Rights Commissioner Was a Target of U.S.
Geneva, March 18, 2002
Human Rights Watch today expressed disappointment that Mary Robinson would not continue as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and pointed a finger at the United States for opposing her re-nomination for a full second term.
“Mary Robinson paid a price for her willingness to stand up to powerful governments that violate human rights,” said Reed Brody, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch. “She has set a standard of candor and strength for future High Commissioners, and we are sad to lose her as an ally.”
Ms. Robinson announced today in Geneva that this would be her last session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which opened its annual six-week meeting today. Although she made no mention of the U.S. campaign against her, it is widely known that officials in Washington had pressed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan not to ask her to serve out the last three years of her second term.
The United States made no secret of its displeasure with Ms. Robinson after the World Conference Against Racism last summer in Durban. The U.S. delegation walked out of the conference, saying the proceedings had been hijacked by anti-Zionist extremists.
More recently, Ms. Robinson has expressed concern about the status of Afghan war detainees that the U.S. government is holding at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and about civilian casualties from the U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan.
Ms. Robinson has also publicly confronted other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, such as Russia for atrocities in Chechnya, and China.
Human Rights Watch said any candidate for the High Commissioner’s post should possess a number of qualities, including:
A solid background in human rights, including direct, practical experience of human rights monitoring and field operations;
The personal integrity, standing, and capacity necessary to demonstrate moral leadership, and the strength of purpose and willingness to confront gross human rights abusers publicly when necessary; and
An established reputation in the international community as a leader of stature, commensurate with the importance of human rights in the U.N. charter. Human Rights Watch said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan should consider candidates who would serve as High Commissioner as the pinnacle of
their career, not as a stepping-stone to higher posts. Candidates with lofty further ambitions might be tempted to avoid offending powerful governments, Human Rights Watch said. “The burden is now on Kofi Annan to show that he will not cave in to governments that want to weaken the voice for human rights,” said Brody. “He needs to appoint someone with the same integrity and moral leadership as Mary Robinson.”