Austria’s Turk proposed to be next UN human rights chief

GENEVA (Reuters): United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will propose Austria’s Volker Turk to be the next High Commissioner for Human Rights, a UN document showed.

Turk, who now works in Guterres’ office as Under Secretary-General for Policy, will succeed Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, whose term ended on Aug. 31. The appointment still needs to be approved by the UN General Assembly in New York.

The 193-member UN General Assembly is likely to approve Turk’s appointment later on Thursday, diplomats said.

If Turk is confirmed, his most immediate challenge will be grappling with the follow-up to a report on China’s Xinjiang region published by his predecessor minutes before her departure.

The report found that China’s “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of Uyghurs and other Muslims in its Xinjiang region may constitute crimes against humanity.

China vigorously denies any abuses in Xinjiang.

The High Commissioner plays a critical role in speaking out against the backsliding of freedoms at a time when autocracies are gaining influence at the expense of democracy.

Other candidates for the job included career diplomat Federico Villegas from Argentina, and Senegal’s Adama Dieng, who previously advised Guterres on genocide prevention.

Phil Lynch, executive director of the International Service for Human Rights, said Turk’s selection had lacked transparency and consultation with independent civil society.

“The Secretary-General missed a key opportunity to build the legitimacy and authority of the next High Commissioner,” Lynch said.

Typically, Guterres consults with the UN’s Security Council’s permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — before selecting the High Commissioner. It was not immediately clear if this was done with Turk.