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UN's Robinson Says Human Rights Under Threat Since September 11

18 March 2002

The UN's top human rights official Mary Robinson said international human rights standards were under threat in the wake of September 11 and urged countries to uphold them.

Robinson made the plea in her opening address to the UN Human Rights Commission during which she also announced she would not seek a further term in the post.

"The buildings that were destroyed on 11 September can be replaced. But if the pillars of the international system are damaged or demolished, they will not be so easy to restore," she said.

The 57-year-old had announced last March that she would not seek a renewal of her four-year mandate when it expired last September but then agreed to extend it by one year on the request of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Robinson's departure followed pressure from the United States and others for her to leave because she had spoken out on issues such as the death penalty.

"She has paid a price for her willingness to confront publicly big governments like the United States when they violate human rights," HRW's Reed Brody said.

"Mary Robinson has set a standard of candor and energy for future high commissioners. We will be sad to lose her as an ally," he said.

Asked to comment at a press conference, Robinson said she did not want to comment on the positions of individual countries but said she was aware many supporters wanted her to stay on.

She was focussed on an "intensive and very constructive" coming six months, she said, adding she had no plans except to stay in the area of international human rights.

Robinson said the acts of September 11 had also been an attack on the "very system of international relations on which this commission and the entire work of the United Nations is based."

"I have a sense that respect for the international human rights norms and standards is at some risk," she told reporters.

"It's an important opportunity for the commission, as the lead body in human rights, to reassert very vigorously and firmly the importance of adhering to international human rights standards, while combating terrorism particularly in the aftermath of the 11th of September," she said.

The high commissioner has already warned that the war on the terrorism is taking a heavy toll on civil liberties and urged countries to redouble efforts to safeguard citizens basic rights.

For the first time in the commission's 56-year history, it opened without the US on its members' list after it was voted off last year under a system to ensure a rotation of members.

Washington will however have observer status at the talks due to examine violations around the world, including Israel and the Palestinian territories, China, Chechnya, African countries and Colombia.

Published by Agence France Presse © 2002 AFP

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