In her last address to the Security Council, the UN human rights chief sharply criticised the body for its ineffectiveness on Syria and other intractable conflicts, saying its members have often put national interests ahead of stopping mass atrocities.
These crises hammer home the full cost of the international community's failure to prevent conflict. None of these crises erupted without warning.
“I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” said Navi Pillay, whose term as high commissioner for human rights ends on August 30.
Pillay said Syria’s conflict “is metastasing outwards in an uncontrollable process whose eventual limits we cannot predict.”
She also cited conflicts in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Ukraine and Gaza.
“These crises hammer home the full cost of the international community’s failure to prevent conflict,” Pillay said. “None of these crises erupted without warning.”
Call for change
Pillay spoke at a meeting where the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution promising more aggressive efforts to prevent conflicts.
However, the resolution said little about the political differences that often paralyse the Security Council, where sharp divisions between veto-wielding members Russia and the United States have often thwarted action on Syria and Ukraine.
Pillay touched on the problem in her remarks.
“Short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of – and long-term threats to – international peace and security,” she said.
The human rights chief said the use of veto power on the Security Council “to stop action intended to prevent or defuse conflict is a short-term and ultimately counter-productive tactic.”
Pillay proposed that the council adopt a menu of new responses, including “rapid, flexible and resource-efficient human rights monitoring missions.”
She also suggested building on the Arms Trade Treaty by requiring that, in countries where there are human rights concerns, governments accept a small human rights monitoring team as a condition of purchasing weapons.