Conflict Spillovers Causing Surge of Human Rights Violations, UN Rights Chief Warns

Geneva — U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warns the potential spillover of dozens of conflicts around the world is threatening global peace and causing human rights violations to surge in all regions.

Türk, who presented an update about the situation of human rights around the world at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday, painted a frightening picture of a world where proliferating conflicts are devastating the lives of millions of civilians.

“Rarely has humanity faced so many rapidly spiraling crises,” he said, noting that 55 conflicts around the world are “battering people’s lives, destroying economies, and profoundly damaging human rights” by subjecting millions of people to widespread violations and “upending hopes for multilateral solutions.”

He said displacement and humanitarian crises have reached an unprecedented scale, legitimate governments are being toppled and those in power choose war to resolve national and international problems.

Türk warned all these conflicts are having a serious regional and global impact.

“Overlapping emergencies make the specter of spillover conflict very real,” he said. “The war in Gaza has explosive impact across the Middle East. Conflicts in other regions including in the Horn of Africa, Sudan and the Sahel could also escalate sharply,” adding that increasing militarization on the Korean Peninsula raises threat levels.

He said, “The war in Gaza already has generated dangerous spillover in neighboring countries and I am deeply concerned that in this powder keg, any spark could lead to a much broader conflagration. This would have implications for every country in the Middle East, and many beyond it.”

In zipping through the existing situations of dozens of countries, Türk provided a grim snapshot of prevailing conditions on the African continent. He called the deteriorating security crisis in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo alarming.

While commending Ethiopia for the steps it has taken in ending military operations against the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, he said the humanitarian situation in the northern region remained very serious and “persistent human rights violations in areas still under the control of Eritrean and Amhara forces, remain obstacles to durable peace.”

He called the human rights situation in both Mali and Burkina Faso very worrying, noting that military operations have intensified in these countries, with armed groups committing grave human rights violations against their civilian populations.

Elections could entrench autocrats

The High Commissioner reports more than 60 countries, where nearly half of the world’s people live, are holding elections this year. Unfortunately, instead of being a landmark for democratic principles, he said many of these elections are cementing autocratic rule, licensing corrupt practices, and depriving “people who are poor and dispossessed of their rights to determine their future.”

“In many parts of the world, many politicians are deliberately inflaming antagonism and xenophobia to garner support, particularly in electoral period,” he said. “In this headlong rush to abandon the common good for short-term personal benefit, they are tearing up the fundamental human rights principles that can unite us all.”

Türk also expressed concern by the prospect of intense disinformation campaigns in the context of elections, fueled by generative artificial intelligence. “There is an acute need for robust regulatory frameworks to ensure responsible use of generative AI, and my Office is doing its utmost to advance them,” he said.

He highlighted several countries that were holding elections to legitimize their authoritarian rule.

“In the Russian Federation, the authorities have further intensified their repression of dissenting voices prior to this month’s presidential election. Several candidates have been prevented from running, due to alleged administrative irregularities. The death in prison of opposition leader Alexei Navalny adds to my serious concerns about his persecution,” he said.

He added that since Russia invaded Ukraine, thousands of politicians, journalists, human rights defenders, and others have been criminally charged simply for speaking out against the war.

He blasted Iran’s legislative election three days ago which “took place in a country that has been deeply divided by the government’s repression of the rights of women and girls. He said the election was Iranians’ first opportunity to vote since country-wide protests broke out following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022, while in police custody. She was arrested for allegedly wearing her veil improperly.

“People who participated in the protests have been persecuted, imprisoned on long sentences and in some cases, put to death,” he said. “I have urged immediate reforms to uphold the rights of all Iranians.”

He expressed concerns about deteriorating human rights related to elections in a bevy of other countries around the world including Chad, Rwanda, Somalia, India, Bangladesh, Mexico, Venezuela, and Poland.

Türk criticized some practices in the United States of America and called on the U.S. government “to ensure that suffrage is non-discriminatory, equal and universal.”

“A 2021 presidential executive order acknowledges that disproportionate and discriminatory policies and other obstacles have restricted the right to vote for people of African descent and emphasizes the need to overturn them.”

Despite this, he noted at least 14 states passed laws last year making voting more difficult. “In a context of intense political polarization, it is important to emphasize equal rights, and the equal value of every citizen’s vote,” he said.

The High Commissioner deplored escalating attacks against LGBTQ+ people and their rights, noting that discriminatory legislation and policies recently have been expanded, adopted, or are under consideration in several countries.

Among those he called out for rebuke are Belarus, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Lebanon, Niger, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, Uganda, and several states within the United States.

“Recognizing the rights of LGBTQ+ people goes to the meaning of equality, and the right of everyone to live free from violence and discrimination,” he said.

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