‘It was the way he lay: asleep, terminal, so profoundly sad – as if by lying in supplication before the waves that killed him he was asking for a replay, with a different outcome this time; and his socks and little shoes told us he was ready to try life again. But his cheek on the soft sand whispered otherwise, it made us choke. Shamed and disgraced, the world wept before the body of this little boy.
These speeches, these sessions, these protests by so many of us here for a world more humane and more dignifying of the rights of all humans, all humans – what good are they, when this happens? Not just once, not just to this tiny boy, Aylan Al Kurdi, but to so many across the world: the horror they experience, relayed daily to us through the news media, shreds our hopes for some mercy, some relief.’
This heartbreaking statement, delivered by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the opening of the Human Rights Council’s 30th Session, preceded a direct plea for States to take swift action and make practical commitments to alleviate the current global tragedies.
We are at a crisis point, and it is not one of capacity, but one of politics.
With regard to the refugee crisis, the pernicious narratives perpetuated by Western media about the ‘swarms’ of migrants are simply incorrect. The so-called ‘influx’ of asylum seekers and migrants who have entered Europe via the Mediterranean or Balkans this year makes up approximately 0.068% of Europe’s population. The combination of fearmongering, xenophobic tabloids and outright apathy to the immense loss of life that has taken place both on Syrian (and surrounding) soil and in the seas around Europe has been abhorrent.
However, while there have been noted failures in the international response to the Syrian refugee crisis, silent tragedies continue to rage across the globe. The compassionate epiphany triggered by Aylan Al Kurdi’s photograph means nothing if we continue to turn a blind eye to crimes against humanity committed by the state in Eritrea, or the exodus of 180,000 people from Burundi, or the ongoing shelling of residential areas on both sides of the contact line in Ukraine. High Commissioner Zeid’s statement is a tragic list of conflict and pain, noting many cases which have eluded our consciences and newspapers thus far.
The Human Rights Council provides a forum for discussion and debate of these issues; however, it requires both scrutiny and engagement to function to the best of its capacity. The High Commissioner implored states to transform verbal promises into actual implementation: you, too, can demand that national representatives are held to account for the promises that they make. As this session continues, the Council can be treated as a springboard for discussion of cases that would otherwise slip by unnoticed.
We live in an increasingly interconnected world, but the current crises have seen the invocation of geographical distance and identity politics to sever our basic ties of humanity. It is our duty to resist such divisive tactics, and to instead redress this political turning point through a demonstration of solidarity and strength with our brothers and sisters worldwide.