The UN’s outgoing human rights chief warned the world body’s five permanent Security Council member states wield too much power and it could lead to its “collapse”.
China, France, the UK, Russia and the United States are “running too much of the business” because they are able to veto resolutions put forward by other UN members, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told reporters on Monday in Geneva, Switzerland.
“When they cooperate things can move; when they don’t everything becomes stuck and the organisation in general becomes so marginal to the resolution of these sorts of horrific conflicts that we see,” Hussein said.
“That has to change: [otherwise] in the end the organisation can collapse at great cost to the international community.”
The UN Security Council has 15 members, all with one vote. But only the five permanent members have the capacity to reject resolutions unilaterally.
Hussein announced in December he would step down from his post after his initial four-year term expires at the end of August. He cited concerns he might be required to “bend a knee in supplication” or “mute a statement of advocacy” were he to continue in his current role.
The rights chief has drawn plaudits among many human rights advocates for his frankness, but in so doing has ruffled feathers among many governments, including some of the most powerful.
Hussein has been an outspoken critic of several world leaders, including US President Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, as well as Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and human rights violations in Syria’s ongoing war.
His comments exemplified his call for reforms at a world body whose shortcomings have been exposed over issues such as Syria’s devastating seven-year war and rising nationalism.
He also alluded to the lessons of World War II that, he suggested, appeared to be fading with time.
“My sense is the further away we get from those historical and dreadful experiences, the more we tend to play fast and loose with the institutions created to prevent repetition,” he said.
“All states are works in progress and one or two generations of reckless politicians can destroy any and every state. It’s applicable to the US as well.”
Hussein, a Jordanian, will be replaced by former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.