U.N. Human Rights Chief Seeks World Support for Uprisings

By John Heilprin | February 28, 2011 | 6:33 AM EST

Navanethem Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. (UN Photo by Jean-Marc Ferre)

Geneva (AP) - The U.N.'s top human rights official appealed to all nations Monday to back the popular revolts shaking the Arab world -- and to do so quickly in tangible ways, before decades-long autocratic regimes like those of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi can regain their footing.

"The international community bears the great responsibility of extending its support in words and deeds to assist such indispensable reforms," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the opening of the U.N. Human Rights Council's monthlong session. "It must do so with dispatch and firmness."

Foreign ministers from around the world including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton were in Geneva to coordinate action against Gadhafi's regime.

"For the sake of humanity, go now!" exhorted Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, comparing Gadhafi's actions to the genocides in Rwanda, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica and Sudan's Darfur region.

Pillay set the tone by noting that the session was opening amid historic turbulent times as massive popular movements are sweeping through Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and elsewhere.

She urged the world's nations to help protesters quickly cement new changes, before formerly entrenched regimes or "new threats" emerge to human rights and democracy.

"From city street to city street, their uproar made clear that despair was not acquiescence," she said. "Protesters have voiced concern over the fact that the international community has all too often prioritized the stability of the political status quo and unhampered trade in natural resources over human rights."

U.N. General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, whose 192-nation world body is poised to decide on an unprecedented suspension of Libya from the Human Rights Council next week, encouraged all "human rights defenders who frequently act in great danger."

Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey condemned Libya's extra-judicial killings and said "the information that has been provided to us leads us to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed."