Austrian Volker Türk appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Austrian Volker Türk on Thursday appointed one of the United Nations secretary-general’s closest aides as High Commissioner for Human Rights, replacing Michelle Bachelet, a sensitive position that makes him vulnerable to criticism and pressure.

And diplomatic sources and human rights advocates said Thursday that Antonio Guterres told United Nations member states late Wednesday that he wanted to appoint Turk to this post.

At a General Assembly meeting on Thursday night, UN member states agreed to his appointment to applause.

Türk, who became assistant secretary-general for political affairs in January, spent most of his career at the United Nations, particularly the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where he worked closely with Guterres when he was its director. .

In response to a question about their close relationship, the secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, confirmed on Thursday that Guterres has always given high commissioners “the space and independence necessary to fully exercise their functions and this will not change at all when Volker Türk takes office.”

He added: “If you look at his career at UNHCR, you will see that he dedicated it to defending the rights of men, women and children who seek protection in the name of international law,” stressing that “he did so diligently, including defending cases before the judiciary.” to defend the rights of refugees.

Guterres’ choice of a diplomat unknown to the public contrasts with the one he took four years ago when he wanted to appoint a strong politician to this sensitive post and chose former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, whose term expired a week ago.

If designated, Turk will find tasks waiting for him.

Bachelet, the former president of Chile, chose to issue minutes before her mandate expires a long-awaited report on possible crimes against humanity in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, whose careful monitoring will fall to her successor.

China, which exerted strong pressure, strongly criticized the 48-page document and led a campaign to prevent its publication, while several Western countries praised the report, which they considered a solid basis to condemn the violations committed by the Chinese authorities.

In this report, the United Nations cites “possible crimes against humanity” and reports of “credible evidence” of torture and sexual violence against the Uyghur minority, and calls on the international community to act.

The document contained no secrets compared to what was already known about the situation in Xinjiang, but it bears the stamp of the United Nations on the accusations leveled against Chinese authorities long ago.

The term “genocide” used by the United States in January 2021 and later adopted by representatives of other Western countries did not appear in this report.

Human rights organizations have called on the incoming High Commissioner to show courage and speak out against abuses even in the most powerful countries.

“He must speak loud and strong to defend the victims of human rights violations around the world,” Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said in a statement, stressing that they trust him to confront those who violate human rights, even if they are powerful countries.

Tirana Hassan, acting executive director of the NGO Human Rights Watch, stressed that “solid investigations and a strong voice” are the “most effective tools” for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to “address crimes against humanity in Xinjiang or war crimes in Ukraine. .” and Ethiopia or racism in the United States.”

NGOs and other human rights organizations were highly critical of the opacity of the nomination process.

Diplomatic sources in Geneva, where the United Nations Human Rights Office is based, also pointed to a lack of transparency. “It was a remarkably opaque process,” said a Western diplomat.

The Executive Director of the NGO “International Commission on Human Rights” Phil Lynch warned that the absence of transparency and consultation would have repercussions.

“The secretary-general missed a great opportunity to build the legitimacy and authority of the next High Commissioner” for human rights, Lynch said.

He added that his organization, like others, “will seek to work closely and in cooperation with the incoming High Commissioner to protect human rights, uphold the principle of accountability of perpetrators and achieve justice for victims.”