World Europe 08 Mar 2017 US needs better lead ...

US needs better leadership to fight xenophobia: UN rights chief slams Trump

Published Mar 8, 2017, 5:21 pm IST
Updated Mar 8, 2017, 5:21 pm IST
The United States holds a seat on the 47-member rights council and had been an active member.
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. (Photo: AFP)
 UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. (Photo: AFP)

Geneva: The UN human rights chief took aim at US President Donald Trump on Wednesday, saying the United States needed better leadership to meet challenges like surging xenophobia and religious discrimination.

In a keynote speech to the United Nations rights council's main annual session, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was "concerned by the new administration's handling" of key issues.


"Greater and more consistent leadership is needed to address the recent surge in discrimination, anti-Semitism, and violence against ethnic and religious minorities," Zeid added.

Zeid warned that Washington's "vilification of entire groups such as Mexicans and Muslims" as well as "false claims" about higher crime rates among migrants "fuel xenophobic abuses."

And, taking direct aim at Trump personally, Zeid said he was "dismayed at attempts by the president to intimidate or undermine journalists and judges."

Major media organisations as well as press freedom groups have accused Trump of demonising journalists in an unprecedented manner for a president, including by describing the media as "the enemy of the people."


The United States holds a seat on the 47-member rights council and had been an active member through much of Barack Obama's eight-year term.

But, representing the Trump administration last week, assistant secretary of state Erin Barclay told the council its work was often at odds with core American values, notably over its criticism of Israel. 

Zeid had been the first top UN figure to speak out against Trump's initial travel ban and on Wednesday blasted a revised executive order that bars entry of people from six mainly Muslim countries.


The rights chief said the measure raised the risk of potentially illegal deportations.

"Expedited deportations could amount to collective expulsions ... in breach of international law," Zeid said, stressing his concern about its impact on children and "families torn apart."

In a broader condemnation of attitudes toward migrants, Zeid accused European politicians of spreading fearful messages that portray vulnerable foreigners as "criminal invading hordes".

"Many ordinary people in Europe have welcomed and supported migrants, but political leaders increasingly demonstrate a chilling indifference to their fate," Zeid told the council, specifically noting migrants who have reached Europe via the Mediterranean.


The UN leader then singled out Hungary, where parliament on Tuesday approved the systematic detention of all asylum-seekers in container camps, a move urged by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Referencing Orban's claim last month that "ethnic homogeneity" was vital for the Hungary's economic success, Zeid said: "No society is homogenous, least of all in Central Europe".

"These toxic notions of so-called ethnic purity hark back to an era in which many people suffered atrociously," he added.

Separately, Zeid called for the UN's highest level probe -- known as a Commission of Inquiry -- into abuses against civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Location: Switzerland, Geneve, Geneve