United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres will seek to appoint his Austrian colleague Volker Turk as the next High Commissioner for Human Rights, diplomats and rights groups said on Thursday.
A week after Michelle Bachelet stepped down at the end of her four-year term as rights chief, the UN has yet to officially announce who will replace her.
But multiple sources said that Guterres had notified UN member states late on Wednesday that he wants Turk, a UN veteran currently serving as assistant secretary-general for policy, in the challenging role.
The 57-year-old Austrian had worked within the UN system for over three decades and worked closely with Guterres back when he headed the UN refugee agency.
According to reports, the UN General Assembly was scheduled to discuss the issue during a meeting later on Thursday or Friday.
The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) noted that “the secretary general’s proposed candidate has been approved by consensus in all previous appointments.”
Turk has his job cut out for him.
Minutes before her tenure ended, Bachelet, a former president of Chile, released a long-awaited report on human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang province, handing the difficult follow-up task to her successor.
The study recommended Beijing to stop “discriminatory” actions against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang and other populations with a majority of Muslims.
The statement included several human rights cases of abuse, such as torture, forced labor, and arbitrary imprisonment. Many of the claims previously made by activist organizations, Western countries, and the exiled Uyghur minority now had the UN’s approval.
It acknowledged that China may have committed “crimes against humanity.” Still, it refrained from using the word “genocide,” which the United States has been using since January 2021 and has subsequently been adopted by parliaments in several other Western countries.
China vigorously denied such accusations, which also harshly criticized Bachelet’s report and charged that the UN had turned into a “thug and accomplice of the US and the West.”
Rights organizations have been urging the next UN human rights chief to have the guts to confront even the most powerful nations and criticize breaches.
Sarah Brooks, the ISHR program director, said in the statement that “the stakes have never been greater.”
The organization and others have harshly criticized the appointment process’s lack of transparency. According to diplomatic sources in Geneva, where the UN rights office is situated, there has not been much understanding up to this point.
A Western official observed that the procedure had been “remarkably murky.” Phil Lynch, director of ISHR, forewarned that there would be a cost to this lack of openness and input.
He claimed that the secretary general had a crucial chance to increase the standing and power of the incoming high commissioner.
However, he said that his group and others will “aim to work closely and constructively with the next high commissioner to preserve human rights and to pursue punishment for abusers and justice for victims.”