Volker Türk is the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


The UN General Assembly has approved Austrian Volker Türk, 57, as the organization’s next High Commissioner for Human Rights. He has been an employee of the United Nations for 30 years and, until then, worked in the office of Secretary-General António Guterres – from whom he received the nomination for the new post.

Turk will succeed Chilean Michelle Bachelet, who ended her term on August 31. In practice, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights plays an important role in speaking out to the international community against the reversal of freedoms.

One of the Austrian’s first challenges will be to follow the developments of a report on China’s Xinjiang region, home to the Uighur Muslim minority. The 48-page document, published by Bachelet shortly before his departure, accuses China of committing “serious human rights violations”. The UN team claims to have collected reports of torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention.

China has denied the allegations. Shortly after the report was released, the country’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, told reporters that the country had made it clear to Bachelet that it was opposed to the document, which China had access to before the release, warning of the risk of it undermine relations with the United Nations. “We all know that the so-called Xinjiang issue is a fabricated politically motivated lie aimed at undermining China’s stability and obstructing its development,” he said.

After confirming the name of the new high commissioner, China said it expects Turk to “lead the office in strict adherence to the principles of objectivity, impartiality and non-politicization”. The US deputy ambassador to the UN said the Austrian must denounce human rights violations and abuses “wherever they occur”.

In addition to Türk, Argentine diplomat Federico Villegas and Senegalese Adama Dieng, Guterres’ former adviser on genocide prevention, were speculated for the post. But, according to the independent organization International Service for Human Rights (ISHR, the acronym in English), usually the names named by the secretary-general win the dispute.

For Phil Lynch, executive director of ISHR, there was a lack of transparency and consultation with civil society in choosing the nominee for the position. “The secretary-general missed a key opportunity to build the legitimacy and authority of the next high commissioner,” he said.

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