UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Prince Zeid al Hussein of Jordan, a veteran diplomat and campaigner for international justice, will become the first U.N. human rights chief from the Muslim and Arab worlds following his unanimous election Monday by the U.N. General Assembly.
The 193-member world body burst into applause when assembly President John Ashe banged his gavel signifying approval by consensus of the prince's nomination to the U.N.'s top human rights job by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Zeid, who is currently Jordan's U.N. ambassador, praised current U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay of South Africa "for her courageous endeavors" and pledged "to build on her noteworthy achievements."
His four-year term in the post which was created by the General Assembly in 1993, will begin on Sept. 1.
"I am going to be the first high commissioner from the Asian continent and from the Muslim and Arab worlds," the prince said. "This reflects the commitment of the international community towards this important dossier, and this important commitment to push it forward in this continent (Asia) as well as in other regions of the world."
Zeid stressed the independence of the high commissioner's job which he said "requires wisdom and a high level of coordination and communication with different governments as well as with civil society and all the U.N. agencies."
The European Union's Thomas Mayr-Harting, one of many regional representatives to welcome his selection, said the prince's "proven track record in the promotion and protection of human rights, the fight against impunity as well as his exceptional diplomatic experience will be an invaluable asset" in his new job.
Zeid spent five years as an officer in the Jordanian desert police, the successor to the Arab Legion, before joining the U.N. protection force in former Yugoslavia from 1994-1996. In his long diplomatic career, he has been ambassador to the United Nations twice as well as ambassador to the United States from 2007-2010.
The prince is a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court, has served as president of its Assembly of States Parties, and has spoken out often against sexual violence.
Zeid was a candidate for secretary-general when Ban was chosen for the job.