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Horrendous Violence By ISIS Is Unacceptable, U.N. Commissioner Says


When Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein became the new U.N. high commissioner for human rights late last summer, he faced what he called the twin plagues of Ebola and ISIS. Since then, Ebola fears have eased some, but ISIS remains a constant threat. He had a conversation with my colleague Renee Montagne, and a warning; this story contains details that could be disturbing to some listeners.


Good morning and thank you for joining us.


MONTAGNE: May I say, from a human rights standpoint, ISIS, or what's also known as the Islamic State, is a glaringly obvious problem, but could I ask you, why would Ebola be among your list of concerns?

HUSSEIN: Well, when I took over this particular office in September, the rates of transmission were very high in West Africa, and were this virus not have been brought under control - and it still, we still have it, you know, in West Africa. But at the time, had we not brought it down to a so-called manageable rate, then we could see growing number of human rights abuses beyond what we were beginning to detect, for example, a forced incarceration of those who were infected as the stigmatization of certain populations.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, and also since that time, ISIS has grown, and its horrors, I might say, have multiplied. You described ISIS as the antithesis of human rights, a product of what you call a perverse and lethal marriage of a new form of nihilism with the digital age. Exactly what do you mean by that?

HUSSEIN: Well, you could hardly describe them otherwise. A report was issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child which highlighted the extent to which these people behave beyond any human experience. They have reportedly buried children alive, crucified them, beheaded them. I mean, this is so beyond the atrocities which are bad enough as they are - the mass killings - that one wonders what drives people like this. No matter how harsh and narrow the ideology, it seems to be beyond human experience. So grotesque and disturbing are the actions and the killing, the burning of my compatriot, Muath al-Kaseasbeh. It was horrifying, as was the decapitation of the two Japanese captors. And all of this...

MONTAGNE: And may I just interject?

HUSSEIN: Yes, absolutely.

MONTAGNE: You say your compatriot because that pilot is of course from Jordan, and you are also.

HUSSEIN: Yes, yes. And, you know, the honorable treatment of captives is part of the Islamic tradition. It is part of customary law when combatants surrender, as is the case with civilians, they are not to be harmed and mistreated, and they violated customary law, international and humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions and certainly Islamic tradition by executing captives in whatever way, or even harming them.

MONTAGNE: Well, I'm wondering - you're a Jordanian, again - what do you think of how your country responded to the death of the Jordanian pilot, burned to death - not just Jordan but actually the Arab world, because there was quite a response?

HUSSEIN: Yes, there was. And I mean, I, as a Jordanian, but not just as a Jordanian, as a human being, was so appalled by what I saw. But I've always - I have been for some time now, ever since the decapitations were first placed on YouTube or the Internet, you know. And it's so unacceptable that in the 21st century, after a century of so much bloodshed and violence and killing of civilians and murdering of innocent people, that we should be now at the threshold of a new century - we still have some 85 years of it left - but to start in this way leaves one feeling, you know, almost wretched. We need to do our best to confront them, and certainly the mood in Jordan and in the Arab world is very angry. And I think the full realization of what these people are capable of doing is dawning upon everyone, and so we must redouble our efforts to confront this ideology and these groups.

MONTAGNE: Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein is U.N. high commissioner for human rights. Thank you very much for joining us.

HUSSEIN: Thank you so much, Renee. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.