UN chief bets on Volker Turk as next chief for rights

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has chosen Austrian diplomat Volker Turk as the next High Commissioner for Human Rights, according to a document sent on Thursday to the General Assembly, which must approve the choice.

The UN veteran would replace Michelle Bachelet, the former Chilean president who was appointed four years ago with the express intention of having a powerful politician in the role.

“The Secretary-General proposes that Mr. Volker Turk (Austria) be appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” Guterres wrote in a letter seen by AFP. “The Secretary-General trusts that the General Assembly will approve this appointment.”

Multiple sources said Guterres told UN member states late Wednesday that he would like Turk, who currently serves as deputy secretary-general for politics, in the challenging role.

The General Assembly was expected to raise the matter during a meeting later on Thursday or Friday, diplomatic sources said.

The 57-year-old Turk has spent most of his career in the UN system, with a particular focus on refugee issues. He worked closely with Guterres when he ran the UN refugee agency.

Turk represented UNHCR in Malaysia and Bosnia and Herzegovina before being assigned to headquarters.

“Throughout my 30 years of #UNHCR work with refugees, I have seen the impact of hate speech and its dehumanizing effects on people. Say #NoToHate is the only strong response,” he wrote on Twitter in July.

Guterres’ election of a figure unknown to the general public contrasts with his appointment of the high-profile Bachelet, who ended her term last week.

But “in all previous appointments, the candidate proposed by the Secretary-General has been unanimously confirmed,” stressed the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) in a statement.

Turk will find it difficult: Bachelet published a long-awaited report on human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region just minutes before the end of her term in office, leaving the tricky follow-up to her successor.

The report called on Beijing to end “discriminatory” practices against Xinjiang’s Uyghur community and other Muslim-majority populations.

It details a range of rights abuses, including torture, forced labor and arbitrary detention, and brought the UN seal of approval to many of the allegations that have long been leveled by activist groups, Western nations and the Uyghur community in exile.

It said China may have committed “crimes against humanity” but did not label Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs as “genocide” – a term used by the United States since January 2021 and since adopted by parliaments in a number of other western nations .

China has vehemently denied such allegations and has slammed Bachelet’s report, accusing the UN of becoming a “thug and accomplice of the US and the West.”

Human rights groups are demanding that the next UN chief justice be “brave” enough to take on even the most powerful countries and denounce violations.

Before the bomb report was released, Bachelet had been severely criticized for her approach to the situation in Xinjiang.

In a recent interview with AFP, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said the human rights chief’s job requires “someone willing to speak out publicly, regardless of the perpetrator.”

“This is not a job for a nice, quiet diplomat,” he said.

For Bachelet’s successor, ISHR program director Sarah Brooks warned that “the stakes have never been higher.”

The organization and others have sharply criticized the opacity of the nomination process. ISHR Director Phil Lynch warned that this lack of transparency and consultation could come at a price.

“The Secretary-General has missed a crucial opportunity to build the legitimacy and authority of the next High Commissioner,” he said.

However, he added that his organization and others “would seek to work closely and cooperatively with the next High Commissioner to protect human rights and pursue accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

The OHCHR was established in December 1993 by the UN General Assembly. The resolution outlining his mandate calls for the top position to be rotated by geographic region, but the idea is not always respected as several Latin Americans have held the post.

The only regional group not to have been at the top is Eastern Europe, which includes Russia.

https://www.ibtimes.com.au/un-chief-taps-volker-turk-next-rights-chief-1838088?utm_source=Public&utm_medium=Feed&utm_campaign=Distribution UN chief bets on Volker Turk as next chief for rights

Fry Electronics Team

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