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Human Rights Council 36th session

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Opening Statement by Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 11 September 2017

Distinguished President of the Council, Excellencies, Colleagues, Friends,

Darker and more dangerous: High Commissioner updates the Human Rights Council on human rights issues in 40 countries

The second of my reflections focuses on States' consistency – or lack of consistency – when it comes to human rights commitments: the so-called internal-external gap. Does it not disturb governments to defend the rights of humans elsewhere – in order to project themselves as global players – while at home they openly deny the rights of their own people? Do they not recognize the hypocrisy?

Third, does it not occur to the many Governments who engage in intimidation and bullying, and commit reprisals against human rights defenders and NGOs which work with the UN human rights mechanisms – do they not realise that this only confirms to us, and to the world, how much oppression and injustice they exercise in their own countries? This is not a shared future; it is the theft of their peoples' inalienable rights.

Fourth, does it not disturb governments when they seize only on some of the countries cited in my oral update and reports, ignoring others? Frequently, a particular critical emergency will demand the focused attention of this Council – and in those circumstances, when swift action is taken, the Council ought to be commended for it. But when this Council does not act with the urgency and magnitude commensurate to the crisis, selectivity becomes a poison that eats away at the credibility of this body.

Fifth, I encourage the President, and Member States, to develop a stronger, more unified voice in world affairs on behalf of human rights. I also suggest consideration be given to the need to exclude from this body States involved in the most egregious violations of human rights.

My final observation is this: many senior officials and diplomats indulge in attacks against the human rights mechanisms, or deny the existence of serious violations. It has been extraordinary in the past three years to see how some of these senior officials who once took a dim view of human rights will change their views fundamentally when they themselves are stripped of some of their own rights and freedoms. Violations of human rights should not have to become so personal, for all of us to truly grasp their importance.

Since June 2016, the government of Bahrain has imposed severe restrictions on civil society and political activism through arrests, intimidation, travel bans and closure orders, with increasing reports of torture by the security authorities. Today, the democratic space in the country has essentially been shut down. I have repeatedly drawn the attention of the authorities to the gravity of the situation in the Kingdom, in conjunction with many human rights mechanisms and joint statements by Member States. I have also repeatedly offered the support of my Office to assist with practical improvements. These efforts have been met with point-blank denials, unfounded accusations and unreasonable last-minute conditions to technical missions. But no public relations campaign can paper over the violations being inflicted on the people of Bahrain. They deserve real respect for their human rights, and I continue to offer the assistance of my Office to any genuine effort to address the situation.

As I enter the final year of my current mandate – a year which I will discharge with vigour and determination – I wish to begin with a few short reflections drawn from the past three years.