New Delhi: Syed Akbaruddin, on Monday, presented his credentials to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the 21st Permanent Representative of India to the world body.
Mr Ban welcomed him, saying that he appreciated India’s significant role at the United Nations as a long-trusted partner of the multilateral system.
Reiterating India’s commitment to the UN, Akbaruddin assured Ban his fullest support to help fulfill the priorities and aims Ban had set for this year, including the quest for peaceful political solutions for international problems and working towards the developmental goals of Agenda 2030.
Akbaruddin brings to the crucial diplomatic posting at the heart of the 193-member organisation a trove of rich experience and contacts from his stints at an international body, as the organiser of the recent India-Africa Summit and from serving as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s de facto spokesperson during his many foreign tours.
Akbaruddin, India’s 21st permanent representative at the UN, has succeeded Asoke Kumar Mukerji who retired at the end of last year.
This is the second turn at the UN for Akbaruddin after joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1985.
From 1995 to 1998, Mr Akbaruddin served as the first secretary in India’s UN Mission where he focused on Security Council reform, a matter that assumes urgency in his current role as the long-delayed process is finally gaining traction.
Another major area where his contribution has been remarkable in 1990s assignment was peacekeeping, which continues to be a crucial contribution to the UN by India.
Currently, 7,798 Indians are serving in UN peacekeeping operations. India has been the biggest contributor to UN peacekeeping, having sent more than 180,000 Indian troops to 48 of the 69 UN missions so far.
Akbaruddin also brings an insider’s insight into the workings of international organisations from his work at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna from 2006 to 2011. He worked at the IAEA as the head of external relations and as the special assistant to the director-general.
Recently at External Affairs Ministry, he was the Chief Coordinator of the India-Africa Forum Summit held last October in New Delhi with the participation of all 54 African nations. Africa being the largest single group at the UN, this experience gave him a rich Rolodex of contacts.
Before that he was the External Affairs Ministry’ official spokesperson from 2012 to 2015 when he attended several multilateral and bilateral meetings at the ministerial and prime ministerial levels. Since Modi does not have a prime ministerial spokesperson, Akbaruddin also served as his spokesperson during Modi’s hectic itinerary of international visits.
Akbaruddin’s diplomatic postings include Counsellor at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and various positions in missions in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.(IANS)
The past decade has seen a backlash against human rights on every front, especially the rights of women and LGBT communities, according to a top U.N. human rights official.
Andrew Gilmour, the outgoing assistant secretary-general for human rights, said the regression of the past 10 years hasn’t equaled the advances that began in the late 1970s — but it is serious, widespread and regrettable.
He pointed to “populist authoritarian nationalists” in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, who he said are taking aim at the most vulnerable groups of society, including Rohingya Muslims, Roma and Mexican migrants, as well as gays and women. He cited leaders who justify torture, the arrests and killing of journalists, the brutal repressions of demonstrations and “a whole closing of civil society space.”
“I never thought that we would start hearing the terms `concentration camps’ again,” Gilmour told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. “And yet, in two countries of the world there’s a real question.”
He didn’t name them but appeared to be referring to China’s internment camps in western Xinjiang province, where an estimated 1 million members of the country’s predominantly Muslim Uighur minority are being held; and detention centers on the United States’ southern border, where mostly Central American migrants are being held while waiting to apply for asylum. Both countries strongly deny that concentration camp-like conditions exist.
Gilmour is leaving the United Nations on December 31 after a 30-year career that has included posts in hot spots such as Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and West Africa. Before taking up his current post in 2016, he served for four years as director of political, peacekeeping, humanitarian and human rights affairs in former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office.
Despite his dim view of the past decade, Gilmour — a Briton who previously worked in politics and journalism — said he didn’t want to appear “relentlessly negative.”
Not a straight line
“The progress of human rights is certainly not a linear progression, and we have seen that,” he said. “There was definite progression from the late ’70s until the early years of this century. And we’ve now seen very much the countertendency of the last few years.”
Gilmour said human rights were worse during the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, “but there wasn’t a pushback as there is now.”
He pointed to the fact that in the past eight years or so, many countries have adopted laws designed to restrict the funding and activities of nongovernmental organizations, especially human rights NGOs.
And he alleged that powerful U.N. member states stop human rights officials from speaking in the Security Council, while China and some other members “go to extraordinary lengths to prevent human rights defenders [from] entering the [U.N.] building even, let alone participate in the meetings.”
In March 2018, for example, Russia used a procedural maneuver to block then-U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein from addressing a formal meeting of the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body, Gilmour said.
Zeid was able to deliver his hard-hitting speech soon afterward, but only at a hurriedly organized informal council meeting where he decried “mind-numbing crimes“ committed by all parties in Syria.
Gilmour also cited the United States’ refusal to authorize the council to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea, a move that effectively killed the idea.
Rights of women, gays
The rights of women and gays are also at stake, Gilmour said. He said nationalist authoritarian populist leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have made “derogatory comments” about both groups.
He said the U.S. is “aggressively pushing” back against women’s reproductive rights both at home and abroad. The result, he said, is that countries fearful of losing U.S. aid are cutting back their work on women’s rights.
Gilmour also pointed out a report issued in September that cited 48 countries for punishing human rights defenders who have cooperated with the U.N.
“I feel that we really need to do more — everybody … to defend those courageous defenders,” he said.
Gilmour said the U.N. should also stand up when it comes to major violations of international law and major violations of human rights, but “I have found it extremely difficult to do so in all circumstances.”
He said he was happy to hear that the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, feels strongly about ensuring human rights.
“And I do hope that she will be gently and firmly held to that high standard,“ he said.
Gilmour said that after his departure from the U.N, he will take a fellowship at Oxford’s All Souls College, where he will focus on the importance of uniting human rights and environmental rights groups.
“The human rights impact of climate change — it’s going to be so monumental,” he said.