The High Commissioner for Human Rights
The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the most senior United Nations official charged with protecting and promoting human rights around the world. The High Commissioner works under the direction of the United Nations Secretary-General and reports to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. The current High Commissioner, Mr. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein (Jordan), took up office in September 2014. The post of High Commissioner was established in December 1993 by a General Assembly resolution, in accordance with a recommendation contained in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The resolution specifies that the High Commissioner is the principal United Nations official responsible for United Nations human rights activities, and that the High Commissioner performs his/her duties under the direction and authority of the Secretary-General. The resolution gives the High Commissioner the broad mandate to promote and protect all human rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural.
Mr. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein assumed the position of High Commissioner on 1 September 2014, following the General Assembly's approval on 16 June 2014 of his appointment by the United Nations Secretary-General. He is the seventh individual to lead the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the first Asian, Muslim and Arab to do so.
A veteran multilateral diplomat, Zeid was previously Jordan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, a post he held from September 2010 until July 2014, and which he also held from 2000 to 2007. From 2007 to 2010 he was Jordan's Ambassador to the United States of America. He served as Jordan's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, with the rank of Ambassador, from 1996 to 2000. In January 2014, he was President of the UN Security Council and chaired the Security Council's 1533 and 1521 committees with regard to two sanctions regimes regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia.
Zeid's professional experience demonstrates his long familiarity with international criminal justice, international law, UN peacekeeping, post-conflict peace-building, international development, and counter- nuclear terrorism. He played a central role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, chairing the complex negotiations regarding the elements of individual offences amounting to genocide; crimes against humanity; and war crimes. Courts around the world now cite as authoritative the definition for 'crimes against humanity' refined by the 'elements'. In September 2002, Zeid was elected the first President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. At that time, the Court was only a plan on paper, and over the next three years he oversaw the election of the first 18 judges, mediated selection of the Court's first president, and led efforts to name the Court's first prosecutor – laying out a functioning institution, despite considerable budgetary pressures and criticism of the Court from several leading nations. Subsequently, in 2009, he was asked to chair the closing stages of the intricate negotiations over the crime of aggression -- identified by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg as that "supreme international crime" – specifically with respect to its legal definition and the conditions for the court's exercise of jurisdiction over it. Those negotiations ended successfully and with consensus in Kampala, Uganda, in June 2010.
In 2004, Zeid was appointed by his government as Jordan's representative, and head of delegation, before the International Court of Justice in the matter relating to the wall being built by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He also represented Jordan before the International Court of Justice in December 2009 in the advisory proceedings relating to Kosovo's declaration of independence. Zeid also represented Jordan on Nuclear Security following the Washington Summit on Nuclear Security, convened in April 2010, which kicked off a concerted international effort to blunt the threat of nuclear terrorism. In this context, he spearheaded work on one of the main pillars of the summit: the establishment of counter nuclear-smuggling teams.
Zeid's knowledge of peacekeeping is extensive. He served as a political affairs officer in UNPROFOR, in the former Yugoslavia, from February 1994 to February 1996. In 2004, following allegations of widespread abuse being committed by UN peacekeepers, he was named Advisor to the Secretary-General on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. His report, produced in 2005, provided, for the first time, a comprehensive strategy for the elimination of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations, and has been called "revolutionary" by experts. In 2012, Zeid was chosen by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as one of five experts to serve on his "Senior Advisory Group" regarding reimbursements to countries contributing peacekeeping troops. Zeid has been a member of the advisory committee to "The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation" based in The Hague. He further served on the international advisory councils of "The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation"; the "International Peace Institute" and "The Security Council Report".
Zeid also chaired the Consultative Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and led an effort to establish greater strategic direction for the Fund (2004-2007). He has been an honorary member of the advisory board of "The Center for Global Affairs" at New York University; a member of the international advisory board of "The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life" at Brandeis University; and a member of the Advisory Board for the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. He also served as a member of the World Bank's Advisory Council for the World Development Report 2011.
Zeid holds a Bachelor of Arts from The Johns Hopkins University and a Doctorate in Philosophy from Cambridge University (Christ's College). On 14 June 2008, he was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the Southern California Institute of Law for his work on international justice. In 1989, he also received his commission as an officer in the Jordanian desert police (the successor to the Arab Legion) and saw service with them until 1994.
He is married to Princess Sarah Zeid, and they have two daughters and a son.
Previous High Commissioners were:
Ms. Navanathem Pillay (2008-2014)
Ms. Louise Arbour (2004-2008)
Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello (2002-2003)
Ms. Mary Robinson (1997-2002) and
Mr. José Ayala Lasso (1994-1997).
Mr. Bertrand G. Ramcharan was Acting High Commissioner from 2003-2004.