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UN human rights chief gives final address, criticizes ongoing discrimination

[JURIST] The UN's new Universal Periodic Review [UN backgrounder, PDF] has made great strides in protecting human rights but still has far to go, departing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] said in her last address [text; recorded video] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website] Monday. Despite gains in safeguarding rights, Arbour noted that discrimination against women and ethnic, religious and sexual minorities is still a rampant problem worldwide:

Ultimately, the gross inequalities tolerated among and between States reflect the pervasiveness of entrenched discriminatory views and practices. Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic origin, color or creed has long been identified as a prevalent and invidious form of exclusion. This discrimination and all related forms of intolerance must continue to be forcefully combated as prescribed in the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action.

We must guard against using criticism of a State or a group of States as a proxy for the expression of hatred against peoples, their origins or beliefs. We must forcefully condemn all those deplorable and manipulative distortions that hide sinister purposes, such as anti-Semitic or Islamophobic agendas, or that convey any other form of intolerance. At the same time, we should not hesitate to condemn human rights violations, irrespective of the origins of the perpetrators. We must expose abuse without fearing accusations of insensitivity to cultural diversity aimed solely at forestalling reasonable and fair criticism. This approach must be applied to the actions of all States, as well as to the conduct of groups and individuals.


Likewise, a failure to understand or accommodate diversity has inevitably led to an erosion of the rights of minorities and vulnerable people within a country, and those of individuals who move across borders, including refugees or migrants. Fears and mutual suspicions, engendered by the security environment that has prevailed in the past few years, have exposed minorities to additional risks and abuse.

Let me also point out that the perpetuation of prejudices continue to deny equal rights and dignity to millions worldwide on the basis of nothing more innocuous than their sexual identity or orientation, or their ancestry, in the case of caste discrimination. Whether these are explicitly articulated grounds of prohibited discrimination or not, it remains that they are immutable personal attributes, or, as in the case of religious adherence, they are personal choices that could only be forcibly abandoned at an unconscionable personal cost.
Arbour will step down from her post [JURIST report] as Human Rights Commissioner on June 30. The UN News Center has more.

Arbour was appointed [JURIST report] to her position in 2004 after five years as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She succeeded Sergio Vieira de Mello [BBC obituary], who was killed in a 2003 suicide bomb attack on UN offices in Baghdad. Arbour served as chief war crimes prosecutor for the UN in the late 1990s.

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