UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] on Monday addressed the world's most significant human rights issues [press release] as she opened the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council [official website]. Pillay criticized Bahrain for its treatment of opposition figures [JURIST report] and its failure to use fair trial practices. She expressed concern over the use of blasphemy laws [JURIST report] to suppress religious minorities in Pakistan. Pillay also addressed issues in western countries as well. She criticized France's expulsion of the Roma from their camps and Greece's recent xenophobic attacks against migrants [JURIST reports]. Furthermore, Pillay demanded that countries abolish the death penalty [JURIST news archive] and stated that the death penalty "undermines human dignity." Pillay's harshest criticism was perhaps for Syria [JURIST news archive]:
The use of heavy weapons by the Government and the shelling of populated areas have resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties, mass displacement of civilians inside and outside the country and a devastating humanitarian crisis. I am concerned that they may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. I am equally concerned about violations by anti-government forces, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture as well as the recently increased use of improvised explosive devices. Last month, the Security Council concluded that the conditions to extend the mandate of the UN Observer Mission have not been fulfilled resulting in the ending of operations on 19 August. I am deeply shocked by the reports of the massacre in Daraya and I urge an immediate and thorough investigation into this incident...UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] expressed support for Pillay and called for war criminals in Syria to be brought to justice [press release].
The UN has called for an improvement in human rights situations throughout the world. In August an independent UN human rights expert condemned [JURIST report] Israel's dismissal of a civil suit brought by the family of an American peace activist. Also that month a UN human rights expert condemned [JURIST report] Iraq for the executions of 26 people and urged the government of Iraq to halt all executions and ensure that all criminal defendants have fair trials. Ban expressed concern [JURIST report] about Iran's human rights conditions and nuclear program during a visit to Tehran in August and also stressed the importance of international cooperation. In May the UN Human Rights Council [official website] announced that it would hold a special session [JURIST report] to discuss the situation in Syria after the massacre in Houla [JURIST report].