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Volker Turk Elected as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

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Volker Turk, while serving as assistant High Commissioner to UNHCR, speaks during a press conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on March 21, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Munir Uz Zaman)

Australia, — The United Nations, on Thursday (8/9), approved the appointment of Volker Turk, who is from Austria, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Reuters news agency earlier reported that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had proposed that Turk replace Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, whose term ended on August 31.

Turk currently works in Guterres’s office as deputy secretary general for policy affairs.

The most pressing challenge for the Turk to solve is to follow up on a report on the treatment of the Muslim-Uighur minority in China’s Xinjiang, which Bachelet published minutes before the end of his term.

The report found that China’s “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of Uighurs and other Muslim groups in the Xinjiang region may contain elements of crimes against humanity.

China has denied allegations of abuses in Xinjiang.

China’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dai Bing, told the UN General Assembly that “China hopes that the Turks can carry out their duties by strictly adhering to the principles of objectivity, impartiality and non-politicization.”

Meanwhile, the United States’ Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, Lisa Carty, said Turkey “must act as an independent, impartial, and steadfast voice in upholding human rights around the world.”

“The high commissioner must be willing to voice human rights violations anywhere,” he stressed.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights plays an important role in countering the decline of freedom when a dictatorial regime gains influence at the expense of democracy.

Other candidates for the position include career diplomat Federico Villegas from Argentina, and Adama Dieng from Senegal, who previously advised Guterres on genocide prevention.

Phil Lynch, executive director of the International Service for Human Rights, criticized the Turk election saying it was not transparent and there was no consultation with independent civil society.

“The UN secretary general missed an important opportunity to build on the legitimacy and authority of the next high commissioner,” Lynch said.


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