By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
GENEVA — The new United Nations human rights chief expressed alarm on Thursday over anti-African prejudices arising from the Ebola crisis, warning against what he described as ill-conceived quarantine enforcements and discriminatory travel restrictions.
In his first news conference since formally taking over the job on Sept. 1, the high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, also voiced dismay over a severe shortage of funds for his agency’s work, which he said could force him to cut back at a time of growing demand from governments for its support.
”I have to say I am shocked, shocked that just six weeks into the job I am already having to look at making cuts because of our current financial situation,” Mr. Zeid said. ”Our operations are stretched to breaking point in a world that seems to be lurching from crisis to ever more dangerous crisis.”
At a time when the United States and Europe are growing increasingly alarmed about the spread of Ebola from West Africa and seeking ways to minimize it, Mr. Zeid admonished against restrictive actions, including criminal penalties, that he said could have the opposite effect.
”Only a response that is built on respect for human rights will be successful in quashing the epidemic,” he said.
”We must also beware of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ a mentality that locks people into rigid identity groups and reduces all Africans — or all West Africans, or some smaller, national or local group — to a stereotype.”
As the global response to the crisis accelerates, he said, ”it is also vital that every person struck down with Ebola be treated with dignity, not stigmatized or cast out.”
He said his office was drafting guidelines on quarantining, because ”if imposed and enforced injudiciously, quarantine can very easily not only violate a wide range of human rights, but in so doing accelerate the spread of diseases like Ebola.”
Mr. Zeid identified Ebola and the onslaught by the Islamic State as ”twin plagues” that had been allowed to fester by other nations that had misread their potential to cause huge losses of life and that thrived on neglect of human rights.
His office, which has an annual budget of $250 million, was continuously asked to monitor crises, investigate abuses and undertake the training of officials and security forces to prevent human rights violations. Doing that with the resources provided by member states and facing a $25 million shortfall in funding this year was ”like being asked to use a bucket and a boat to cope with a flood,” Mr. Zeid said.
His comments echoed aid agencies’ increasingly strident calls for greater action by world powers to prevent crises that are similarly exhausting their financial and human resources.
Commissions documenting atrocities in Syria and North Korea are among six inquiry panels supported by the United Nations human rights office, more than ever, together with teams monitoring developments and documenting abuses in a number of crises, including Iraq and Ukraine. The office also had several requests to open or retain field offices and dozens of requests to deploy human rights advisers, which it feared it would be unable to fulfill, Mr. Zeid said.
Mr. Zeid said it was ”particularly painful” that one of the first things he would have to do as the human rights chief was cut staff and programs. There is, he said, an ”extraordinary disconnect between what we are asked to do and what we are given to do it with.”
Although human rights ranks, along with security and development, as one of the three pillars of the United Nations, it receives just 3 percent of the budget, and this covered about one-third of its activities, Mr. Zeid said. The rest of its funding came from voluntary contributions, but these had not kept pace with the demands for action from governments. ”The office is stretched to the limit,” he said. ”We are already paring back everything we can, and services are starting to suffer.”
As a point of comparison, he said, residents of Switzerland spent 10 times as much on chocolate last year as the annual amount the human rights office would receive from the United Nations budget this year and in 2015, he said.
“We are not asking for very much,” Mr. Zeid said, contrasting his office’s modest budget with the United Nations’ $1.3 billion for security and $1.1 billion for development. He pointed out that a number of governments had proposed that the share of the budget should increase to 5 percent.
Financial reports by his office reveal enormous geographic disparities in the levels of financial support for the human rights office. Almost three-quarters of the voluntary contributions came from Western European countries last year, buoyed by hefty donations from the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
By contrast, 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries, which accounted for about one-third of the human rights office’s spending on field offices in 2012 and 2013, contributed less than half a million dollars.
Wealthy Asian countries were also conspicuously modest contributors. Japan is one of the biggest contributors to the United Nations budget, but it gave less than $500,000 to the human rights office. Last year, piqued by the comments of the former high commissioner Navi Pillay about state secrets legislation, it withdrew the contribution. China gave $50,000, Singapore contributed $10,000, and Malaysia did not contribute at all.
Culled from The New York Times