Volker Türk’s first speech falls short of activists’ hopes for a stronger stance after the UN report on abuses in Xinjiang.
New UN human rights chief says his office has opened ‘communication channels’ to help follow up on concerns about minority rights in China’s western Xinjiang region, including Uyghur Muslims and Tibetans.
In a much-anticipated address on Tuesday, which marked the first presentation of the office’s annual report since taking office in October, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, noted that his office had called for a “concrete follow-up” of abuses, including arbitrary detentions and family separations in Xinjiang.
“We are also concerned about the severe restriction of civic space more generally, including the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and lawyers, and the impact of the national security law in Hong Kong,” did he declare.
Türk has come under pressure from Western nations and rights organizations to take a tough stance on Xinjiang following a bombshell report released in August by his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, which cited possible crimes against humanity.
His remarks fell short of activists’ hopes for a stronger message to Beijing. Former Human Rights Watch chief Kenneth Roth said Türk had “not uttered a word of criticism of China”.
“He only offers quiet diplomacy – ‘we’ve opened up channels of communication’ – like he has leverage on top of the public denunciation/condemnation he gives up,” Roth tweeted.
In his major speech to the UN Human Rights Council, the head of human rights @Volker_Turk says, “I am deeply concerned” about the abuses in Russia and Iran, but on Xinjiang he says impersonally “my Office has documented serious concerns”, referring to his predecessor. https://t.co/UOSiQDJxE6
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) March 7, 2023
Türk’s speech marked the first presentation of his office’s annual report since he took the helm in October. It covered a range of concerns – such as women’s rights, discrimination, conflict and climate change – in a huge number of countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia.
He also highlighted Russia’s war in Ukraine, continued fighting in Syria and instability in Mali and Burkina Faso, as well as a crackdown on dissent, free speech and political activists in some areas. from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
Türk further cited reports of “excessive use of force, racial profiling and discriminatory practices by police – most recently in Australia, France, Ireland and the UK”.
He said he was “deeply concerned about multiple trends” in Russia, such as the closure of offices of independent media and activist groups, and “constant” pro-war messages in state media that “fuel stereotypes and incite hatred and violence”.
Advocacy groups had called on Turk to take a tough stance on China above all else.
Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said last month that Türk should “publish its weight” behind Bachelet’s report and include in the council session “an important brief on Xinjiang that reflects the seriousness of the findings.” UN human rights office.
“It will be an important message in many ways,” she told the ACANU press association. “I think the high commissioner will be judged very well on his willingness and courage to stand up to China and the other superpowers.”
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