Rights "window-dressing" is widespread, warns UN's Zeid

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UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo: UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

The protection of people's rights should not be a "tick-the-box" paper exercise for the international community, the United Nations' human rights chief has warned.

Speaking in Geneva on Thursday, UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein highlighted abuses in nearly 50 countries and called for states to do more to bring about "real change" on the ground.

Here's Daniel Johnson in Geneva.

In a 50-minute speech covering as many countries, the UN Human Rights chief expressed serious concern at abuses the world over.

From the European Union's emerging deal proposals on migrants with Turkey, to conflict and humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Iraq, Syria and beyond, Zeid Ra'Ad Al Hussein highlighted problems in country after country.

And for those states that dodged the High Commissioner's attention, there was another take-away message: namely that they need to do more to uphold the binding principles of human rights.

Failure to do so, Zeid said, risked turning the Human Rights Council into "theatre".

"Human rights obligations should not be a tick-the-box exercise designed only to boost a country's international image. Unless consequential at the level of the rights of the individual, the work we do will remain bureaucratic – or even theatre."

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein even went so far as to talk about the practice of "human rights window-dressing", saying it was "widespread".

The UN rights chief also expressed his surprise at budgetary constraints set by member states that would prevent his staff from opening field offices in the coming year.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1'10"

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