High Commissioner for Human Rights: The 'Moral Voice of Humanity.' (UN Appoints Jose Ayala Lasso) (Interview)

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Less than two months after its historic decision to create a High Commissioner for Human Rights, the General Assembly on 14 February unanimously approved the appointment of Jose Ayala Lasso to the new post.

A former Foreign Minister of Ecuador, he was his country's Permanent Representative to the UN just prior to his appointment.

Mr. Ayala Lasso shared his views on the new job with the UN Chronicle just before leaving for Geneva, where he will be based.

We know that your job is to "promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights". Tell us how this important mandate will translate into day-to-day responsibilities.

That is a very important question, because you are addressing the most difficult task-defining what I should be able to do. The resolution is vague, giving the High Commisssioner the widest possible capability in the field of human rights. What we have created is a new instrument, a new voice to coordinate and update already existing UN systems and develop new action to achieve effective progress in promoting human rights. So my work will be very broad. At the same time, the mandate of the High Commissioner is limited within the framework of the Charter, the instruments of human rights, the political authority of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Secretary-General, whose vision I will be following.

How do you plan to streamline and better organize UN activities in human rights?

The Secretary-General considers coordination one of the most important tasks of the High Commissioner. This is necessary for avoiding duplication. We need to establish procedures that will be conducive to our aims and develop better reaction capabilities, for instance, in the provision of technical assistance and advisory services through the Centre for Human Rights. All of these tasks will be part of the plan of work as soon as I assume office.

Personally, I think that one of my most important aims will be to strengthen the moral and political authority of the High Commissioner. I have frequently referred to the fact that the post was created through consensus in the General Assembly. This unanimity of world voices gives the High Commissioner a very strong moral and political authority. I plan to develop this authority in such a way as to allow the High Commissioner to become more and more influential, more and more respected, more and more accepted as an impartial, objective person who simply wants to promote what everybody wants--human rights.

How do you plan to work with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to promote human rights? How do you hope to expand their role? NGOs have historically accomplished a very important task in the area of human rights, and I pay tribute to the work they have done. Their work and the High Commissioner's work are complementary. I plan to establish a sort of organic link between the NGOs and the High Commissioner, because we are fighting for the same cause. At the same time, I will be entirely at the disposal of the NGOs to help them, if they consider it necessary or useful.

Throughout the world, we have been witnessing an alarming increase in religious, cultural and ethnic intolerance. Hoping to curb such attitudes, the General Assembly declared a Decade to promote tolerance. Why do you think that intolerance has been increasing, and how do you hope to play a role in promoting a more understanding, tolerant world society?

You have mentioned one of the most important causes of human rights violations--intolerance. We need to bring up our children in a culture of tolerance. …