In the days since the U.S. federal government shutdown, we’ve begun to learn just how far the ramifications have stretched beyond Washington D.C. Among its global impacts, the shutdown breached the gates of the Palais Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland. There, the U.S. was expecting to undergo its quadrennial review under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a UN human rights treaty that the U.S. ratified in 1992. However, on October 10, the U.S. State Department, citing the shutdown, formally requested a postponement of the review.
As violence has flared yet again in the eastern Congo and the world’s attention is focusing on atrocities in Syria, discussions at the United Nations on how to better protect civilians in conflict have gained renewed urgency.
“Free & Equal,” a new global campaign that the Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) launched in July, is the beginning of a yearlong advocacy push to raise awareness for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world. During this campaign, OHCHR will work to reshape the educational and legal landscapes surrounding the issue of gay rights. According to its 2011 report on LGBT discrimination, existing laws in 76 countries outlaw same-sex sexual relationships. The report also documents global cases of violence against the LGBT community, from beatings and torture to rape and murder.
Killian Kleinschmidt has seen a lot of refugee crises, but nowhere have refugees been as tricky to handle as here. “I have to be more bossy here than anywhere else in the world,” he says from his office, which is a caravan in the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) compound of Zaatari camp.
In early July, Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) convened the “Human Rights Council Elections: A Discussion of Candidates’ Aspirations and Vision of Membership.” Taking place in a recently renovated room at United Nations’ headquarters, this second-annual event allowed member states to elaborate upon their respective campaigns for seats on the Human Rights Council—the UN’s highest human rights body.
Human trafficking, also called modern-day slavery, is a $32 billion-a-year international business with an estimated 21 million victims. At any given time, millions of women, children and men are sold worldwide to serve as sex slaves, forced laborers or child soldiers. Many are also killed for their organs. That is why the United Nations has been focusing heavily on addressing these rampant human rights violations.
For all the setbacks and frustrations in responding to mass atrocities, the world has come a long way. It’s been a decade since the United Nations adopted the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, more commonly known as R2P, which outlines steps for the international community to stop and prevent some of the most devastating man-made carnage.
In a recent report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Commission of Inquiry found that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” chemical weapons have been used in a limited way in at least four attacks since the Syrian civil war began in March of 2011. However, the council said it needed “more evidence,” including tests of samples taken directly from victims or at the sites of the alleged attacks.
In early April, two trucks belonging to the World Food Programme (WFP) were hijacked en route to Aleppo. It was but the latest in a string of incidents primarily involving rebel forces that have challenged the ability of UN organizations to provide aid and health care to those Syrians who need it most.
The United Nations is commemorating the 19th anniversary of the genocide that claimed the lives of over 800,000 Rwandese. In a press release announcing the commemoration ceremony, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon declared, “The United Nations works every day to learn the lessons of Rwanda and to prevent any recurrence of such horror.” Remembering the past brings an awareness of the abhorrent devastation a country can experience, but this remembering must come with a sense of urgency to produce policy plans to prevent such atrocities.