UN Rights Chief Takes Aim at US Presidential Campaign: ‘The Ugly Phantom of Racial and Religious Division’

By Patrick Goodenough | April 17, 2016 | 8:14pm EDT
Jordanian diplomat Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein has been U.N. human rights commissioner since 2014. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

(CNSNews.com) – The tenor of elements of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign has drawn sharp criticism from the top United Nations human rights official, who cited “bigotry” and the “demonizing” of minorities and targeted Donald Trump – without naming him – for comments supportive of waterboarding terror suspects.

In a speech in Cleveland, Ohio on Friday, U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein cautioned against rhetoric and stances which he said could lead down “the road to violence.”

“In what may be a crucial election for leadership of this country later this year, we have seen a full-frontal attack – disguised as courageous taboo-busting – on some fundamental, hard-won tenets of decency and social cohesion that have come to be accepted by American society,” he said at Case Western Reserve University.

“We have heard these calls to hatred – calls stigmatizing and demonizing minorities, beginning the validation of violence,” Zeid continued. “Less than 150 miles away from where I speak, a front-running candidate to be president of this country declared, just a few months ago, his enthusiastic support for torture – a jus cogens crime, the practice of inflicting intolerable pain on people, in order to force them to deliver or invent information that they may not have.”

Widening his criticism to include other – again unnamed – presidential hopefuls, he said, “We have heard hateful slander of foreigners, and multiple candidates declaring their support for extensive and intrusive surveillance of people based on their religious beliefs – vast and discriminatory systems to single out and discriminate against Muslims.”

“The ugly phantom of racial and religious division is flapping across the political landscape of this country – as it is across many other countries in the world,” he said.

“Bigotry is not proof of strong leadership,” Zeid said elsewhere in the speech, still in the context of the U.S. “It is evidence of the lowest and most craven lack of faith in the principles that uphold a land of the free. Hate speech, incitement and marginalization of the ‘other’ are not a tittering form of entertainment, or a respectable vehicle for political profit. To casually toss this gasoline onto the smoldering embers of fear is to risk great harm to a great nation.”

Zeid, a Jordanian diplomat who became U.N. human rights commissioner in Sept. 2014, compared today’s rhetoric with the words and actions of earlier Americans whom he lauded, including Eleanor Roosevelt, for her work in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Franklin Roosevelt for “defeating tyranny and building the foundations of the United Nations.”

He quoted Robert Kennedy, in a speech in Cleveland two months before his assassination in June 1968, as saying, “When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother – when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues – when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family – then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.”

Zeid noted that the same city will host the Republican national convention in July.

“The world's eyes will turn to Cleveland, and it is my deepest hope that the people of this country will demonstrate their profound understanding of human dignity and human rights,” he said.

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