The UN, Human Rights, and ISIS

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This month, I attended a Washington D.C. press conference in which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, expressed his anger and disgust at ISIS actions against innocent civilians - and, particularly, against children.

A report recently released by the UN detailed atrocities committed by ISIS terrorists against children, including systematic killings, beheadings, crucifixions, and even live burials. Zeid denounced these actions as a betrayal not only of the Islamic tradition, but of human experience itself.

"What virtue or courage is there in beheading the defenseless?" Zeid asked. "If you are looking for meaning in life, do good deeds."

Zeid's visit marks the first trip to Washington D.C. by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in eight years. Given the recent occurrences in the Middle East, he said, discussions of violent extremism have overshadowed every one of his meetings, as violent extremism continues to spread to an increasing number of countries throughout South Asia and Africa, where groups such as Boko Haram are laying waste to villages.

In 2006, Member States agreed upon a global strategy to counter terrorism which created a plan not only to build state capacity to fight terrorism, but also to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, such as poverty and disease.

According to Zeid, six million young children, from ages zero to five, die each year from preventable diseases as a result of authority figures' delinquency in the discharge of their duties. He stated that, if we do not want young people to attach themselves to extreme ideologies – and if we do not want to go back to the human rights horrors of the 20th century – there must be basic rights for all parts of the population.

Zeid added that the world has seen over the past decade that armed responses to and denouncements of terrorism have clearly not had enough of an impact: Terrorist groups can exploit reactions, overreactions, and mistakes.

Rather, he argued, we must fight the ideas of terrorist groups with "better ideas," tackling their hopelessness and disillusion through new ideological battles.

"We must not betray our own values," he stated, emphasizing the need to hold true to human rights obligations. "When we do, it feeds their killing machine."

On February 12, 2015, the UN Security Council urged global cooperation in impairing, isolating, and incapacitating terrorist threats. The Council approved measures targeting sources of funding for ISIL, banning all trade in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria, and condemning those buying oil from the groups.

UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, called the resolution a “milestone for enhanced protection of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria,” noting that pillage and destruction of the countries' culture has reached an unprecedented scale.

“It fuels the conflict by providing revenues for armed groups and terrorists,” said Bokova. “This resolution acknowledges that cultural heritage stands on the front line of conflicts today, and it should be placed on the front line of the security and political response to the crisis.”

There are eighteen universal instruments against international terrorism within the framework of the UN system relating to specific terrorist activities. The Security Council has been active in countering terrorism through resolutions and by establishing subsidiary bodies.

In addition, senior dignitaries from 60 nations met in Washington DC today for The White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The summit highlighted “domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence.”

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