Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

Thursday, May 28

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan is the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Known for his outspoken criticism of the fascism, religious radicalism, and threats to civil liberties growing in countries around the world, Zeid was a powerful advocate for human rights and open societies. Zeid was the sixth High Commissioner for Human Rights, serving from 2014 to 2018. He was also the first Arab and Muslim to hold the post.

In his speaking engagements, Zeid draws from his career in diplomacy and as the Human Rights Chief to address the geopolitical climate, relations in the middle east, and the current challenges to human rights. At the U.N., he called upon powerful and small states alike to secure human rights in their own countries and internationally, drawing notable attention to atrocities committed in Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, by ISIS, to the treatment of migrants and refugees in Libya, and the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

His principled approach to his role became most evident when he announced that he wouldn’t seek a second term due to the trying task of dealing with governments and the limited power of the U.N. security council. In his final U.N. address, Zeid shared his concern about the threat to global stability posed by increasing nationalism and warned world powers against undermining civil liberties.

Named the Distinguished Global Leader-in-Residence at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, Zeid was selected to chair the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) new Advisory Committee on Human Rights. In 2019, he joined The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice, and human rights.

A veteran multilateral diplomat, Zeid was Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. from 2000 to 2007 and again from 2010 to 2014. From 2007 to 2010 he was Jordan’s Ambassador to the U.S. He also served as Jordan’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N. with the rank of Ambassador from 1996-2000.

An expert in the field of international justice, Zeid was a central figure in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), chairing the complex negotiations to establish the exact terms of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. He was subsequently elected the first President of the governing body of the ICC in 2002 and grew it into the internationally recognized court that it is today.

Zeid has been active on many legal issues, including international law, post-conflict peace-building, international development, counter-nuclear terrorism, and women’s development. Following allegations of widespread abuse being committed by U.N. peacekeepers, Zeid was appointed by Kofi Annan as Advisor to the Secretary-General on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. His report on this subject was the first comprehensive strategy for the elimination of sexual exploitation and abuse in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

He recently pledged to be an International Gender Champion, committed to advancing gender equality in the office of Human Rights. In 2018, the International Women's Health Coalition honored Zeid with the Visionary Leadership Award. He was also the Stockholm Human Rights Award recipient in 2015, the winner of Foreign Policy's Career Diplomat of the Year Award in 2018, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2019.

In 1989, Zeid received his commission as an officer in the Jordanian desert police (the successor to the Arab Legion) and saw service with them until 1994. He spent two years as a political affairs officer for UNPROFOR, the United Nations (U.N.) force in the former Yugoslavia, before starting his diplomatic career.

Zeid holds a B.A. from The Johns Hopkins University, a PhD. in history from Cambridge University, and was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the Southern California Institute of Law for his work on international justice.