Volker Türk, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, made his first and highly anticipated speech at the ongoing 52nd Session of the Human Rights Council on March 7, 2023 in Geneva.
In his “Annual Report and Oral Update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of his Office and recent human rights developments” Mr. Turk stated that a quarter of humanity “is living today in places affected by conflict” and said that cooperation with his Office and the UN field presences should be about “solutions” and “not just engagement for engagement’s sake.” His statement covered a range of human rights related issues and dozens of countries.
Here is the UN human rights chief’s statement on China:
“Regarding China, we have opened up channels of communication with a range of actors to follow up on a variety of human rights issues, including the protection of minorities, such as for Tibetans, Uyghurs and other groups. In the Xinjiang region, my Office has documented grave concerns – notably large-scale arbitrary detentions and ongoing family separations – and has made important recommendations that require concrete follow-up. We also have concerns about the severe restrictions 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.”
The statement on China was viewed as mild and disappointed many who had hoped for a tougher stand on China’s grave human rights abuses and especially after the groundbreaking UN report that cited possibly crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities.
Kenneth Roth, former head of Human Rights Watch, Tweeted that the UN rights chief “mouthed not a word of criticism of China. He offers only quiet diplomacy – ‘we have opened up channels of communication’ – as if he has any leverage besides the public reporting/condemnation that he abandons.”