In the four years since Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein became the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, attacks on people's safety and dignity have been reported all over the world.

From Myanmar's campaign to drive hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya from the country, to the brutal wars in Yemen and Syria, human rights are under extreme pressure.

Hussein is well-known as an outspoken critic of world leaders, including US President Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

He himself has been criticised for pointing out where countries have failed to preserve human rights. Hussein is stepping down at the end of August and will be replaced by former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

Before his departure, the outgoing human rights chief sat down with Al Jazeera to discuss areas where human rights are under extreme pressure and what should be done to protect these freedoms.

On criticism by governments of the job he has done:

"The job of high commissioner is to effectively be the ambassador of human rights. It means that you have human rights law and you have obligations upon states to abide by the law, and where they don't do, so you then have to defend the victims who either are deprived of their rights or discriminated against when it comes to their rights or they live in fear."

The number of people on the move globally is in the range of about four, maybe 4.5 percent. So, 95 percent and above of people on this planet are static, they stay within their countries. All this hysteria that we see, the panic, the trending towards the more extreme demagoguery, is as a result of this small percentage of people that are actually moving across the planet.

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, UN human rights chief

"My job is not to defend governments, they can do that themselves, my job was to defend the rights of everyone else, individuals."

"In that sense, I knew early on that I was not going to have the backing of the permanent members of the Security Council. Actually, I would be concerned if I was on the outside and I'd see the high commissioner had gotten the support of the P5 because I would suspect he or she would not have done the job properly."

"It almost goes without saying that the permanent five enjoy a privileged status here in New York because of the use of the right to veto they have in the Security Council."

"But in Geneva, they don't. They're just one of 47 members of the human rights council if they're serving on the human rights council, so we in the human rights community look at their records the same we look at anyone else's records, and they don't like that."

On the refugee crisis

"The number of people on the move globally is in the range of about four, maybe 4.5 percent. So, 95 percent and above of people on this planet are static, they stay within their countries."

"All this hysteria that we see, the panic, the trending towards the more extreme demagoguery, is as a result of this small percentage of people that are actually moving across the planet."

"[The xenophobia] comes from recognition by politicians. Whatever the ills in society, whatever the miscues by previous governments, the inability of previous or present governments to cope with certain circumstances, then you pinpoint the problems on these communities that seem different, that seem alien, that seem to be vying for jobs, and you turn the hatred on them."

"This is an old device, the sad part of it is that it works and people tend to out of fear adhere to it and politicians know it."

"The cautionary tale to this is that the logical extension of it is a sour outcome. If you get chauvinistic nationalism, bigotry, some sort of racist undercurrent and it reaches a certain pitch, traditionally when we look at the historic record it's not easy to dismantle it."

"What you tend to find is that conflict arises from it, because suddenly you're telling people that they're no longer special, that we're all endowed with the same rights and that we needed to be treated equally, whether on the basis of gender, ethnicity, whatever the circumstances may be."

On North Korea's human rights abuses

"Perhaps in the context of the immediate discussions, [the human rights record of North Korea] is not being mentioned, but I don't think it's easy for anyone to forget given severity of the human rights violations detailed in the Kirby commission's report and also by our office."

"There is a fear that if the negotiations were to mature that somehow these issues would be downgraded, and that's a fear we have with regards to many conflicts that begin to wind down."

"During the conflict, there is a strong call for accountability that the perpetrators are punished but as we work through the peace agreements, people will say, 'Not now, not now, we'll deal with it later'. What we find though, is that later it becomes even more difficult."

...There's a thirst and need by victim groups who see someone who they believe has created so much suffering to be held accountable in a court of law, but sometimes it takes longer and sometimes painfully long. Certainly, in a context like Syria, I would believe there will be justice for the victims.

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, UN human rights chief

"The victims need to feel that they're at the centre of these negotiations, that their pain is being attenuated and if you don't do that, it becomes problematic."

"So, we'll watch the DPRK file closely. If we see it's being pushed off the table certainly we'll be speaking up about it."

"The position of the UN is that if you're indicted by an international court for atrocity crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide then it would really be impermissible for you to turn up in New York."

"But if there hasn't been a charge like that, when the evidence is still being collected, certainly there would be a lot of criticism of the UN, and I as high commissioner I wouldn't feel comfortable with it."

On holding the Syrian government responsible:

"At the moment we have an accountability mechanism, it's continuing to collect evidence."

"One would believe there would be a strong push for accountability. Too many people have suffered in this cruel war to just let it pass, to have it somehow be forgotten."

"I would believe there will be a time of reckoning for him and his senior leadership and others who are thought to have committed crimes in Syria."

"We saw at the end of last year a number of things happen, where those who had perpetrated crimes thought they had gotten away with it. And for a while, they did, but then in the end, Ratko Mladic was convicted by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia."

"There were two former Argentine officers who were convicted for their role in the so-called 'Dirty Wars' many years ago. There was a Salvadorian colonel who was extradited from the US to Spain to face potential charges on account of an alleged involvement in the killing of Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989."

"In other words, there are activists, lawyers, journalists the world over who are collecting and preparing evidence."

"People who may have been complicit in the commission of war crimes who at some stage felt comfortable that they had gotten away with it, eventually, time caught up with them."

"So, yes, there's a thirst and need by victim groups who see someone who they believe has created so much suffering to be held accountable in a court of law, but sometimes it takes longer and sometimes painfully long."

"Certainly, in a context like Syria, I would believe there will be justice for the victims."

On the controversial Israeli 'nation-state law':

"I've said before it's clear that it's discriminatory."

"In human rights terms, to achieve any sort of stability and tranquillity, three conditions need to be obtained."

"One is that you don't discriminate against people in your own country on the basis of ethnicity, colour, gender and so forth."

"Two is that you don't deprive parts of your community subject to those discriminations."

"Three is that you don't have people live in fear in your country, and you have to remove that fear so that they trust the institutions so that they'll be treated fairly."

"When you don't do those things you create tensions within society."

On a new generation of human rights defenders:

"When I sit with young people who lead protest movements, who are courageous, who are willing to give everything up and they understand the dangers, they understand what could potentially happen to them and yet they still do it, that is real leadership for me."

"Much more so than many politicians who masquerade as leaders who are very concerned about protocol issues, whether they are the first speaker at a particular conference for example."

"I find many of them to be frauds really, they're not serious."

"The serious people are the young human rights defenders who stake everything on account of principle."

"There is an incredible leadership there, many unsung, mainly unknown, but they are there and they are the hope of humanity really."

Source: Al Jazeera News