UN Appoints Austria’s Volker Turk Human Rights Chief

The United Nations General Assembly assigned on Thursday Austrian diplomat Volker Turk as its new high commissioner for human rights.

Among the candidates for the job were also Senegal’s Adama Dieng, who previously advised Guterres on genocide prevention, and Argentinian career diplomat Federico Villegas.

The UN has approved Turk’s appointment by consensus replacing former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, whose term ended on August 31, in the high-profile post at the UNHCR after UN Secretary-General António Guterres had proposed him.

The 57-year-old Turk is currently serving as assistant secretary-general for policy and has spent most of his career within the UN system, with a particular focus on refugees. He worked closely with Guterres when he headed the global body’s refugee agency.

Recommending him, Guterres praised Turk for devoting his long and distinguished career to advancing universal human rights, notably the international protection of refugees and stateless persons.

Turk’s appointment was welcomed on Friday by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who emphasized the envoy’s long experience, great competence, and true passion.

Yet, the executive director of the International Service for Human Rights, Phil Lynch, criticized Turk’s selection, arguing it had lacked transparency and consultation with independent civil society, and said that Guterres has missed a key opportunity to build the legitimacy and authority of the next High Commissioner.

The most immediate challenge Turk will face will be grappling with the follow-up to the long-awaited report Michelle Bachelet published on China’s Xinjiang region minutes before her departure, accusing Beijing of possible crimes against humanity for its arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.

Vigorously denying any abuses in Xinjiang, China’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dai Bing conveyed to UNGA Beijing’s hope that Turk will lead the office in strictly abiding by the principles of objectivity, impartiality, and non-politicization.

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