JON STONE writes:
Friday 24 April 2015
The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has criticised the UK tabloid press for its reporting of immigration as an issue.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reserved particular ire for a recent column in The Sun newspaper where media personality Katie Hopkins referred to migrants as “cockroaches”.
The statement is reproduced in full below.
GENEVA (24 April 2015) – After decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion, and in the wake of a recent article in the Sun newspaper calling migrants “cockroaches,” the UN Human Rights Chief on Friday urged the U.K. authorities, media and regulatory bodies to take steps to curb incitement to hatred by British tabloid newspapers, in line with the country’s obligations under national and international law.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also called on all European countries to take a firmer line on racism and xenophobia which he said “under the guise of freedom of expression, are being allowed to feed a vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicization of migrants, as well as of marginalized European minorities such as the Roma.”
“This is not only sapping compassion for the thousands of people fleeing conflict, human rights violations and economic deprivation who are drowning in the Mediterranean. The nasty underbelly of racism that is characterizing the migration debate in an increasing number of EU countries, has skewed the EU response to the crisis, which as we see in the results of the EU Council deliberations yesterday focuses on deterrence and on preventing movement at all costs, risks making the crisis even worse, and could sadly result in further massive loss of life.”
An article by a Sun columnist on 17 April began with the words “Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.” Elsewhere in the article she described migrants as “a plague of feral humans,” compared them to “a novovirus” and said some British towns were “festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers shelling out benefits like Monopoly money.”
The Sun columnist also advocated using gunboats to stop migrants, threatening them with violence, and said “drilling a few holes in the bottom of anything suspiciously resembling a boat would be a good idea too.”
In language very similar to that employed by Rwanda’s Kangura newspaper and Radio Mille Collines during the run up to the 1994 genocide, the columnist said “make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches.” Leading figures in both Rwandan media organizations were later convicted by an international tribunal of public incitement to commit genocide.
On Monday, a British NGO, the Society of Black Lawyers, reported the Sun to the U.K.’s Metropolitan Police and requested the matter be investigated under the 1986 Public Order Act to see whether the article amounts to incitement to racial hatred.
Zeid urged the UK authorities to take the complaint seriously, and to closely examine the broader issue of incitement to hatred by the tabloid press and other sectors of society. “This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long. I am an unswerving advocate of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but it is not absolute. Article 20 of the same Covenant says ‘Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.’”
The High Commissioner noted that Article 20 of the ICCPR, as well as elements relating to hate speech in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination* (both of which have been ratified by the U.K., as well as by all other EU countries), were rooted in the desire to outlaw the type of anti-Semitic and other racially based hate speech used by the Nazi media during the 1930s. “The Nazi media described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches. This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper. The Sun’s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author.”
Zeid noted that the Sun article was simply one of the more extreme examples of thousands of anti-foreigner articles that have appeared in UK tabloids over the past two decades. “To give just one glimpse of the scale of the problem, back in 2003 the Daily Express ran 22 negative front pages stories about asylum seekers and refugees in a single 31-day period. Asylum seekers and migrants have, day after day, for years on end, been linked to rape, murder, diseases such as HIV and TB, theft, and almost every conceivable crime and misdemeanour imaginable in front-page articles and two-page spreads, in cartoons, editorials, even on the sports pages of almost all the UK’s national tabloid newspapers,” he said. “Many of these stories have been grossly distorted and some have been outright fabrications. Elsewhere in Europe, as well as in other countries, there has been a similar process of demonization taking place, but usually led by extremist political parties or demagogues rather than extremist media.”
The High Commissioner noted that “while migration and refugee issues are completely valid topics for public debate, it is imperative that migration policy decisions that affect people’s lives and fundamental human rights should be made on the basis of fact — not fiction, exaggeration or blatant xenophobia. History has shown us time and again the dangers of demonizing foreigners and minorities, and it is extraordinary and deeply shameful to see these types of tactics being used in a variety of countries, simply because racism and xenophobia are so easy to arouse in order to win votes or sell newspapers.”
From the UN site:
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein assumed his functions as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 1 September 2014, following the General Assembly’s approval on 16 June 2014 of his appointment by the United Nations Secretary-General. He will be the seventh individual to lead the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the first Asian, Muslim and Arab to do so.
A veteran multilateral diplomat, Zeid was previously Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, a post he held from September 2010 until July 2014, and which he also held from 2000 to 2007. From 2007 to 2010 he was Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States of America. He served as Jordan’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, with the rank of Ambassador, from 1996 to 2000. In January 2014, he was President of the UN Security Council and chaired the Security Council’s 1533 and 1521 committees with regard to two sanctions regimes regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia.
Zeid’s professional experience demonstrates his long familiarity with international criminal justice, international law, UN peacekeeping, post-conflict peace-building, international development, and counter- nuclear terrorism. He played a central role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, chairing the complex negotiations regarding the elements of individual offences amounting to genocide; crimes against humanity; and war crimes. Courts around the world now cite as authoritative the definition for ‘crimes against humanity’ refined by the ‘elements’.
In September 2002, Zeid was elected the first President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. At that time, the Court was only a plan on paper, and over the next three years he oversaw the election of the first 18 judges, mediated selection of the Court’s first president, and led efforts to name the Court’s first prosecutor – laying out a functioning institution, despite considerable budgetary pressures and criticism of the Court from several leading nations.
Subsequently, in 2009, he was asked to chair the closing stages of the intricate negotiations over the crime of aggression — identified by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg as that “supreme international crime” – specifically with respect to its legal definition and the conditions for the court’s exercise of jurisdiction over it. Those negotiations ended successfully and with consensus in Kampala, Uganda, in June 2010.
In 2004, Zeid was appointed by his government as Jordan’s representative, and head of delegation, before the International Court of Justice in the matter relating to the wall being built by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He also represented Jordan before the International Court of Justice in December 2009 in the advisory proceedings relating to Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
Zeid also represented Jordan on Nuclear Security following the Washington Summit on Nuclear Security, convened in April 2010, which kicked off a concerted international effort to blunt the threat of nuclear terrorism. In this context, he spearheaded work on one of the main pillars of the summit: the establishment of counter nuclear-smuggling teams.
Zeid’s knowledge of peacekeeping is extensive. He served as a political affairs officer in UNPROFOR, in the former Yugoslavia, from February 1994 to February 1996. In 2004, following allegations of widespread abuse being committed by UN peacekeepers, he was named Advisor to the Secretary-General on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. His report, produced in 2005, provided, for the first time, a comprehensive strategy for the elimination of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations, and has been called “revolutionary” by experts. In 2012, Zeid was chosen by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as one of five experts to serve on his “Senior Advisory Group” regarding reimbursements to countries contributing peacekeeping troops.
He also chaired the Consultative Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and led an effort to establish greater strategic direction for the Fund (2004-2007).
Zeid holds a Bachelor of Arts from The Johns Hopkins University and a Doctorate in Philosophy from Cambridge University (Christ’s College). On 14 June 2008, he was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the Southern California Institute of Law for his work on international justice. In 1989, he also received his commission as an officer in the Jordanian desert police (the successor to the Arab Legion) and saw service with them until 1994.
Zeid has been a member of the advisory committee to “The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation” based in The Hague. He further served on the international advisory councils of “The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation”; the “International Peace Institute” and “The Security Council Report”. He has been an honorary member of the advisory board of “The Center for Global Affairs” at New York University; a member of the international advisory board of “The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life” at Brandeis University; and a member of the Advisory Board for the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. He also served as a member of the World Bank’s Advisory Council for the World Development Report 2011.
He is married to Princess Sarah Zeid, and they have two daughters and a son.