Austria's Volker Turk appointed as next UN high commissioner for human rights

The current assistant secretary general for policy won the consensus of the UN General Assembly

Volker Turk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Office of the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National (Reporter: Caline Malek / Section: NA) ID 87956 *** Local Caption ***  RM_20170322_Volker_006.JPG
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The UN has approved Austrian diplomat Volker Turk's appointment as its new high commissioner for human rights, replacing former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet in the high-profile post.

The 57-year-old envoy has spent most of his career within the UN system, with a particular focus on refugees, and worked closely with Secretary General Antonio Guterres when the latter headed the global body's refugee agency.

Mr Turk, currently serving as assistant secretary general for policy, received the approved of the UN General Assembly by consensus on Thursday.

“Mr Turk has devoted his long and distinguished career to advancing universal human rights, notably the international protection of some of the world's most vulnerable people — refugees and stateless persons,” Mr Guterres said.

“In my 30-year-long #UNHCR work with refugees, I have seen time and again the consequences of hate speech and its dehumanising effect on people,” Mr Turk wrote in July on Twitter. “Say #NoToHate is the only powerful answer.”

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed on Friday Mr Turk’s appointment.

“We know well his long experience, great competence and true passion,” Mr Grandi said. “We look forward to supporting him as he stands up for everybody’s rights.”

The UN veteran replaces Ms Bachelet, who was appointed four years ago with the specific intent of having a powerful female politician in the role.

Mr Guterres's choice of a figure unknown to the wider public stands in contrast to his appointment of the high-profile Ms Bachelet, who ended her tenure last week.

Mr Turk will have his work cut out: Ms Bachelet published a long-awaited report on rights abuses in China's Xinjiang region just minutes before the end of her term, leaving the tricky follow-up job to her successor.

The report urged Beijing to end “discriminatory” practices against Xinjiang's Uighur community and other Muslim-majority populations.

Detailing a string of rights violations including torture, forced labour and arbitrary detention, it brought the UN seal to many of the allegations long made by activist groups, western nations and the Uighur community in exile.

It said China may have carried out “crimes against humanity” but stopped short of calling Beijing's treatment of Uighurs “genocide” — a term used since January 2021 by the US and now embraced by parliaments in multiple western nations.

China has vehemently rejected such charges and criticised Ms Bachelet's report, accusing the UN of becoming a “thug and accomplice of the US and the West”.

Updated: September 09, 2022, 6:41 AM