A UN High Commissioner in Defence of Human Rights: "No License to Kill or Torture"

A UN High Commissioner in Defence of Human Rights: "No License to Kill or Torture"

A UN High Commissioner in Defence of Human Rights: "No License to Kill or Torture"

A UN High Commissioner in Defence of Human Rights: "No License to Kill or Torture"


In contemporary international relations the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is a central actor, promoting human rights laws and institutions within countries, speaking out against gross violations of human rights, integrating human rights into efforts for conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, development and humanitarian affairs. The author exercised the functions of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a turbulent period involving the conflict in Iraq, the conflict in Cote dIvoire, and the crisis in Darfur, Sudan. In this unique work he tells the story of the role of the High Commissioner in leadership and advocacy, crisis response, diplomatic initiatives, mainstreaming human rights, and strengthening the Office of High Commissioner. The texts of the principal reports referred to the essays contained in Part One are reproduced in Part Two, offering the reader important insights into the reasoning, the methods and the techniques used in the work of the High Commissioner. This is the first book ever written by a serving High Commissioner in the history of the institution. It is obligatory reading for all students and practitioners of human rights.


In this chapter I set out some thoughts that passed through my mind as I set about my assignment and some views on the role of the High Commissioner that influenced me during my tenure.


On Tuesday, 27th May 2003, Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave a press conference in New York at which he announced that the serving High Commissioner was being designated for duty in Iraq and that “Bertie Ramcharan will serve as Acting High Commissioner”. Hitherto, I had been in advisory and back-up roles in human rights. Now I would be the “Helmsman” in the words of one of my colleagues who sent me an e-mail with his good wishes.

I received many messages of good will, two of which came from people I respected deeply and which touched me very much. One of my own colleagues, with whom I had grown up in the human rights programme, sent me the following message:

“Cher Bertie,

Je reste toujours discrète avec toi bien que je t’apprécie depuis très
longtemps et admire ton ascension de loin. Mais aujourd’hui je ne
peux m’empêcher de te dire que … le SG ne pouvaient pas trouver un
meilleur remplaçant que toi à la tête du OHCHR. Tes qualités profes
sionnelles et humaines sont depuis longtemps reconnues, et je suis
heureuse que toi, la personne la mieux qualifiée pour ce remplacement
ait été choisie plutôt que quelqu’un d’autre. Alors bon courage et
bonne chance. Mais tu ne manques ni de l’un ni de l’autre. »

“Dear Bertie,

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