Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, 50, of Jordan has been appointed high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, according to Pink News. Prince Zeid will replace South African Navi Pillay, who is credited as the U.N.'s first high commissioner to put pressure on the international body to recognize and defend the rights of LGBT people.
The Western-educated prince, who is a blood relative of the reigning monarch of Jordan, has served as his country's ambassador to the U.N. for all but two of the past 14 years, reports Pink News. He will take office in September, when Pillay's six-year term ends.
Prince Zeid has also served as Jordan's ambassador to the U.S., and is widely respected as a diplomat and for having been a co-creator of the International Criminal Court, Nick Cumming-Bruce wrote recently in the The New York Times.
"He produced a report for … [former U.N. Secretary General Kofi] Annan on sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers," wrotes Cumming-Bruce of the prince. "The focus that report placed on Jordanian peacekeepers enhanced Prince Zeid’s reputation for independence."
But the prince has a tough act to follow if indeed he wants to meet the standard for championing the human rights of LGBT people set by Pillay, his predecessor. Pillay was recognized this year by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association as its "LGBTI Friend of the Year."
While many international LGBT rights advocates appear to have adopted a "wait-and-see" stance regarding the Jordanian prince's appointment, others are weighing in with optimism about Prince Zeid's appointment. However, most are expressing said optimism without referencing the issue of LGBT human rights specifically, and little has been reported about the prince's personal or political positions regarding LGBT equality.
"Human rights defenders and the high commissioner for human rights are essential partners in the struggle for human rights and against injustice," said International Service for Human Rights director, Phil Lynch. "We look forward to working closely with Prince Zeid in his important new role."
Expressing hope that the prince will follow in his predessor's footsteps, ISHR's Lynch praised the outgoing high commissioner for her courage and accessibility.
"We also look forward to Prince Zeid continuing on the path set by Navi Pillay who, throughout her term, was accessible to civil society, provided protection and support to human rights defenders, stood up and spoke out for universal human rights and against discrimination in all of its forms, and was unafraid to confront privilege and power," said Lynch.
Notably, Prince Zeid hails from a predominately Muslim Mideast nation, rare in the region because it does not criminalize same-sex relations. On the other hand, however Jordan does not recognize same-sex unions, nor does it make discrimination against LGBT people unlawful.