UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay fired a parting shot at the UN Security Council before stepping down, saying that governments are putting short-term goals and national interests ahead of human suffering, global peace and security.
As she prepares to leave her post as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights after six years in her post, she said in her final address: “I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”
"Even after violence has broken out, international actors can help broker and enforce peace,” she added.
Pillay, a South African, cited 12 cases from around the globe, ranging from Afghanistan to Ukraine, where the international community has failed to prevent the outbreak of conflict.
"None of these crises erupted without warning. They built up over years – and sometimes decades – of human rights grievances," Pillay said.
Pillay said that the Security Council’s “interest in human rights has increased” during her tenure, but cited Russia and the USA’s disagreements concerning Syria and Ukraine, saying, “There has not always been a firm and principled decision by members to put an end to crises.”
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that states have the main responsibility to try and prevent conflict from breaking out, warning that any international assistance should be done with the consent of the host country and not imposed.
"Unfortunately in the UN Security Council we have often heard proposals that border on the management of internal affairs of states or even interference into their constitutional procedures," he said.
The UN human rights chief made the suggestion that the Security Council should become more proactive and come up with new solutions how to deal with abuses of human rights, such as deploying rapid, flexible and resource efficient human rights monitoring missions, saying that countries were “putting short-term geopolitical concerns and narrowly-defined national interests ahead of intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of global peace and security.”
Her comments were echoed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said, “The Security Council, which bears the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, has a unique responsibility,” however, he also accepted there were areas where the council could look to improve.
“There is no more important challenge before us than improving our ability to reach a stronger and earlier consensus. It is time for a new era of collaboration, cooperation and action from the Security Council,” he said.
Pillay will be succeeded by Jordan's Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, who will start his four-year appointment next month. The outgoing chief said that she could also informally brief the Security Council once a month in a bid to strengthen early warnings of potential crises.