Austrian diplomat tipped to head sensitive UN rights office

AP , Thursday 8 Sep 2022

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has proposed a veteran Austrian diplomat to head the global body's human rights office at a time when it is facing harsh criticism from China for accusing Beijing of abuses against Muslim minorities.

Outgoing UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet
Outgoing UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet (L) receives flowers from UN Human Rights Council President Federico Villegas (2nd-L) during her farewell at the preparatory meeting for the next regular session of Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva on August 30, 2022. AFP


The proposal circulated to member states late Wednesday of Volker Tuerk, currently undersecretary-general for policy in Guterres' office, needs to be approved by the U.N. General Assembly.

Tuerk, who spent many years working for the U.N. refugee agency, would succeed Michelle Bachelet of Chile as High Commissioner for Human Rights, based in Geneva.

Bachelet's term ended in August with the release of a highly anticipated report on human rights in China's western region of Xinjiang. The report accused Beijing of serious human rights violations against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups that may amount to ``crimes against humanity.''

China blasted the report, accusing the U.N. rights office of fabrication and allowing itself to be used by Western nations.

Tuerk can also expect to face pressure from human rights activists. Amnesty International's secretary general, Agnes Callamard, said he is being appointed ``at a time of considerable threats to human rights around the world.''

``Immediately, he has to help shape an effective human rights response and accountability for Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, China's persecution of millions of Uyghurs, and far too many forgotten crises,'' she said in a statement, pointing to Yemen, Congo and Myanmar as examples. ``His agenda should also include strengthening the human rights response to climate change and rising inequality.''

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