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UN rights boss takes aim at US migration policy, China, Myanmar

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein delivered his final speech to the UN Human Rights Council before his term in office ends.

FILE: Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein. Picture: AFP.

GENEVA - The top UN human rights official called on the United States on Monday to halt its “unconscionable” policy of forcibly separating children from migrant parents irregularly entering the country via Mexico.

US officials said on Friday that nearly 2,000 children were separated from adults at the border between mid-April and the end of May as the Trump administration implements stricter border enforcement policies.

“The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable. I call on the United States to immediately end the practice of forcible separation of these children,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in his final speech to the UN Human Rights Council before his term in office ends.

There was no immediate reaction from the US delegation in the room, led by Geneva-based diplomat Jason Mack.

Reuters quoted activists and diplomats on Thursday as saying that talks with the United States over how to reform the main UN rights body have failed to meet Washington’s demands, especially over its treatment of Israel, suggesting that the Trump administration will quit the forum.

Zeid said that “longstanding, grave and systematic” violations of human rights continued in North Korea and urged Pyongyang to cooperate with the UN rights investigator on the isolated country whose mandate it does not recognise.

Zeid cited clear indications of “well-organised, widespread and systematic attacks” continuing against Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, “amounting possibly to acts of genocide”, while conflict has escalated in Kachin and Shan states.

The Myanmar government’s efforts to prosecute perpetrators have lacked credibility and human rights monitors must be on the ground before Rohingya refugees return from Bangladesh, he said.

Zeid accused China of preventing independent activists from testifying before UN rights bodies and voiced concern that conditions were “fast deteriorating” in the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.

He urged the 47-member forum to set up international commissions on alleged violations in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Zeid, whose four-year term finishes at the end of August, said that his office was committed to its “gargantuan task”. He received a standing ovation at the end of his remarks.

Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson praised the council for shining a light on appalling violations worldwide, saying it was part of the rules-based international system.

But it shared the view - with the United States - that maintaining a permanent agenda item focusing solely on Israel and the Palestinian territories was “damaging”, Johnson said.