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UN Rights Chief Zeid In US To Meet Only Government, Issues Ignored?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 3, updated -- The official visit to the US of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid features today a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. According to Zeid's Office, he will

hold meetings with State Department and other U.S. Government officials, including National Security Adviser Susan Rice, to discuss a wide range of overseas and domestic issues. He will also meet with around eight senior members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.”

   One is left wondering: what kind of human rights visit is it, not listing meetings with civil society representatives but only the government?

 While some groups now say they met with Zeid, and it's appreciated, the question remains: why not in its OHCHR briefing notes mention US rights groups, as OHCHR does in / for other countries?

  Zeid's announcement emphasizes that his is "the first official visit by a UN Human Rights Chief to Washington D.C. to meet senior  U.S administration officials and Members of Congress since 2007, when former High Commissioner Louise Arbour made a similar visit."

  The Commissioner in between, of course, was Navi Pillay, to whom US Secretary General Ban Ki-moon only gave half of a second term. But Pillay on her visits met with civil society. How should this lack on Zeid's official visit be viewed?

  What about, just for example, the issues of police brutality as raised in the UN Committee on Torture and predatory and discriminatory lending, raised for example in the UN Committee on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination? What of human rights issues like torture and spying? There are non-governmental experts -- and victims -- a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should meet with, and elsewhere would, if the past is any guide. We'll have more on this.

  Back on November 21, Inner City Press which has previously praised Zeid for example on Sri Lanka and other issues reported that, protesting layoffs and lack of transparency, staff at the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights were petitioning then-new High Commissioner Prince Zeid for due process and accountability. Inner City Press obtained the petition and exclusively put it online here.

In it, the OHCHR staff call for “transparent and comprehensive information on prospective cuts and restructuring, detailing their impact on savings and OHCHR’s overall financial situation... tangible accountability measures by attributing responsibility for the present crisis and taking the requisite action to prevent another financial crisis of this magnitude in the future and a meaningful dialogue and truly consultative decision-making on ongoing financial including putting decisions on hold.”

The staff complain to Zeid that “the lack of transparency, consultation and information on who, where or how, not to mention why, some of us are affected is deplorable and unacceptable.”

The lack of transparency in the current OHCHR extends from Geneva to New York, where the Office anonymously spun its Ukraine report to hand-picked scribes then refused when asked to explain the basis.

 Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access asked at the November 20 UN noon briefing that the New York representative of Prince Zeid hold a press availability about the report, including incongruities in report on labor issues such as the cut-off of pensions, click here for that.

  On accountability, the staff complain that the “senior management level evidently bears much more responsibility. Yet, it is other individuals at lower levels who are paying the price for this mismanagement.”

Also on accountability at the OHCHR, as Inner City Press has twice reported, document leaks from inside the UN have identified improper service of Morocco, on the question of Western Sahara, by a current staffer at the OHCHR, Anders Kompass, and by another who has recently left.

 Prince Zeid still not publicly addressed this scandal, though Inner City Press understands that no only is their an investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, but also inquiry from member states such as Sweden. Inquiry on them was not permitted at Zeid's one press availability that week in New York. Zeid's spokesman has indicated there will be no comment at all until OIOS' "investigation is completed." Since the OIOS process is far from transparent -- it has become even less so -- this is the way the UN system tries to make issues go away, but it is even less appropriate at the UN's human rights office.

   Zeid should address this scandal - and his Office's staff. Watch this site.


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