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Outgoing UN rights chief takes swipe at Security Council

The UN's outgoing rights chief levelled harsh criticism at the Security Council on Thursday (Aug 21), saying the top world body too often lacked resolve to end conflicts and save lives.

UNITED NATIONS: The UN's outgoing rights chief levelled harsh criticism at the Security Council on Thursday (Aug 21), saying the top world body too often lacked resolve to end conflicts and save lives. Navi Pillay, who steps down in the coming days as UN Human Rights Commissioner after six years, said national interests often trumped human suffering when the council weighed action to put an end to wars.

"There has not always been a firm and principled decision by members to put an end to crises," Pillay said in a swansong address to the 15-member council. "I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of lives."

South African-born Pillay said the use of vetoes to block measures was a "short-term and ultimately counter-productive tactic", and urged the powers to develop a "broader conception of national interest." The five permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - wield veto power on the council, and their use highlights deep divisions.

In May, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution giving the International Criminal Court the green light to open cases for war crimes prosecution in the Syria conflict. The United States, which has repeatedly vetoed resolutions critical of Israel, has resisted attempts to push for a strong resolution on ending the conflict in Gaza.

In his address, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon complained that a failure to overcome divisions and a slow response "can be measured in terrible loss of life" and loss of credibility for the UN. Ban called for a "new era of collaboration, cooperation and action from the Security Council."

The sober assessment of the council's weaknesses came as the 15 members unanimously adopted a resolution on stepping up conflict prevention, giving Ban more authority to work on de-escalating tensions before they reach the boiling point. The council has been grappling with full-blown crises over the past weeks in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, South Sudan, Ukraine and the Central African Republic, among others.

"The Security Council was designed to be a smoke detector, and not just a fire extinguisher," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told the council after the vote.

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