Speaking at the opening of its four-week meeting in Geneva, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (photo) urged the Human Rights Council (OHCHR) to come up with cures to what he called "attacks" on the rights of refugees and minorities around the world.
"Disregard for human rights is a disease, and it is a disease that is spreading," said Guterres in a keynote speech.
"The Human Rights Council must be part of the cure," he urged the Council, an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them.
Its membership comprises elected nations which appoint "rapporteurs" or analysts to brief it on crises in individual nations or the plight of minorities.
"We are increasingly seeing the perverse phenomena of populism and extremism," said Guterres, adding that these trends were resulting in growing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.
US retakes seat, but for how long?
Guterres' address coincided with the United States again taking its seat at the council under President Donald Trump, despite media reports that it might quit the council over its past criticism of Israel.
Trump's recent and court-overturned executive order seeking to ban travelers from seven mainly-Muslim countries had "eroded" US credibility, said John Fisher, the Geneva spokesman for Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Pro-Israeli groups, in turn, assert that the Jewish nation had in the past been targeted by more human rights council resolutions that any other nation.
Zeid: planet's very future at stake
Council chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein in his opening speech said "reckless political profiteers" must not be allowed to "throw aside" rights and the "very future of our planet."
Nations collectively had a duty to resist such political actors who "threaten the multilateral system or intend to withdraw from parts of it," Zeid asserted.
Council credible, says think tank
A think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) said the OHCHR was initially influenced by nations such as Algeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
But since 2009, when the US administration headed by President Barack Obama secured a council seat, the OHCHR had emerged as a "credible international human rights institution," according to the CFR.
Currently, China, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia as well as Germany have seats at the OHCHR.
Member nations serve for three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
The OHCHR has 14 regional offices around the world, with regional training and documentation centers for western Africa, South West Asia and the Arab Region.
ipj/jm (AFP, dpa)