Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, left, in Geneva on Monday. “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” he said.CreditMagali Girardin/EPA, via Shutterstock
6/18/2018 — The United Nations’ top human rights official on Monday entered the mounting furor over the Trump administration’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents, calling for an immediate halt to a practice he condemned as abuse.
United States immigration authorities have detained almost 2,000 children in the past six weeks, which may cause them irreparable harm with lifelong consequences, said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
He cited an observation by the president of the American Association of Pediatrics that locking the children up separately from their parents constituted “government-sanctioned child abuse.”
“The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” Mr. al-Hussein said.
His intervention added to an escalating chorus of condemnation from people across the political spectrum in the United States, including the former first lady Laura Bush, who called the separations “cruel” and “immoral.” But Mr. al-Hussein risked retaliation by the Trump administration, widely believed to be pondering pulling out from the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
President Trump turned to Twitter early Monday to blame Democrats for the current situation: “Why don’t the Democrats give us the votes to fix the world’s worst immigration laws?” he wrote.
“We don’t want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!” he said in a separate tweet.
The high commissioner’s office had already condemned the practice of separating children from their parents this month, calling it a serious violation of children’s rights and international law. That drew an angry rebuke from Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, who accused the agency of ignorance and hypocrisy.
Her response illustrated the administration’s deepening impatience with United Nations human rights mechanisms that Ms. Haley has accused of “chronic bias” against Israel and of overlooking the abuses major human rights violators — even allowing them to become Human Rights Council members.
A protest against thhe recent immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, N.J., on Sunday.CreditStephanie Keith/Reuters
Diplomats from the United States mission in Geneva attended the start of a new council session on Monday, but rights advocates and envoys of other countries continued to ask how long the Americans would remain there.
Mr. Trump has shown his disdain for the multilateral organizations and agreements that have long been central to world affairs, withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, trade pacts and the Iran nuclear deal, imposing tariffs on trade, and undermining other international agreements.
Those tensions did not deter Mr. al-Hussein, an outspoken advocate for human rights, from raising the issue of families being pulled apart as they enter the United States, many of them illegally and others requesting asylum.
Opening the last session of the Human Rights Council before he steps down in August, he voiced deepening concern about a threat to global stability posed by the nationalist agendas of “self-serving, callous leaders.” Mr. al-Hussein warned that “the more pronounced their sense of self-importance, the more they glory in nationalism, the more unvarnished is the assault on the overall common good — on universal rights, on universal law and universal institutions, such as this one.”
The escalating attack on the multilateral system and its rules, he said, would only increase the risk “of further mischief on a grander scale.”
The high commissioner’s final overview of human rights around the world after four years in office earned a standing ovation from a packed council chamber.
(c) 2018 The New York Times