Posts Tagged ‘Volker Turk’

2023: it can only get better for human rights

January 3, 2023

It seems bold to be so optimistic, but lets not forget that the assertion starts from a very low base: 2022 was probably one of the worst years with the Ukrainian war, further repression in Russia, death sentences for protesters in Iran and no let up in China.

Also remarkable wss the relatively poor observance of internatioanl Human Rights Day on 10 December 2022. Usually I make selection of events (e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/10/human-rights-day-2021/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/17/human-rights-day-2019-anthology-part-ii/), but this year there was little to report. Just these:

In an interview with Global Solutions of 9 December the “new” High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, [see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/15/new-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-volker-turk-the-man-for-an-impossible-job/] gives an answer to the question: 10 December marks Human Rights Day; With this milestone – and your new role – in mind, what’s your vision for human rights?

I think we have to start with where we are with the world and we are at a very peculiar moment.  We have all lived through these multiple crises. We have seen the geopolitics, the divisions, the fragmentation, and all these things that have preoccupied us at a time when you would hope that the international community would come together and craft something that would respond to the big challenges that we face.

So for me, human rights is the force that comes in and unifies us.  Because it brings us back to human dignity and to what makes us all connected with each other. Let’s not forget that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emerged out of the ashes of the Second World War.  It provided the inspiration and the motivation that the world needed at that time.  So, I think we need to almost counter intuitively go back to the basics of what this unifying force – this concentration on the human being – was.  We need to regain the universality and the indivisibility of the human rights regime.

Secondly, we also need to look at human rights in the 21st century, for example in the digital transformation that we’re seeing. Take the letter I wrote to Twitter’s Elon Musk, for instance. Social media platforms play a very important role. We know the role Facebook played in Myanmar, for example, when the Rohinga crisis happened, in allowing disinformation and hatred to spread. So, human rights needs to look at the type of issues that we face today.

And the third area that I hope we can achieve next year, is we have to look at the human rights ecosystem as a whole. So, what is the role of the treaty bodies, of the special procedures mandate-holders, of the Human Rights Council, Universal Periodic Review process, and of my own office too – and how do we strategically deal with different situations?

Freedom House took the occasion to consider that Political prisoners and the victims of human rights abuses have taken a back seat when global summits and events occur. But it is exactly because of those events that we should be giving the victims of such abuses our full attention...

Symbolic dates like International Human Rights Day offer space to reflect on and advocate for the rights of the brave people who have been imprisoned or experienced retaliation for standing up to repressive, authoritarian rule. But political prisoners and others fighting for freedom deserve our attention for more than one day of the year. We cannot allow their plight to be sidelined because it is inconvenient to think about them during an event like the World Cup.

The World Cup is one of several events in recent months that has drawn criticism for the human rights controversies surrounding it. In what was meant to be a historic summit to discuss the imminent threats posed by climate change, the latest United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), held in Egypt in early November, instead became a spotlight on the host country’s abysmal human rights record. The large number of human rights defenders and activists currently detained or imprisoned in Egypt was difficult to ignore, and one case in particular stood out for its perilously high stakes. British-Egyptian democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, imprisoned for his activism, endured a six-month hunger strike, now over, which resulted in the Egyptian authorities denying his family the ability to contact him as the conference took place. They desperately pleaded with the authorities for proof he was alive, and his sister Sanaa took the stage at official summit events to advocate for her brother’s release. She faced threats from Egyptian officials who accused her of calling on foreign entities to intervene in the country’s internal affairs.

Participating governments could have added to this pressure and set the stage for the release of Abdel Fattah and numerous other political prisoners, by conditioning Egypt’s hosting role on freeing political prisoners ahead of COP27. Instead, the conference’s setting appeared hypocritical, as climate justice depends in large part on respect for democracy and human rights.

Similarly, this fall’s G20 summit saw leaders of multiple countries that hold political prisoners convene for strategic discussions. The lives and freedoms of imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, and prodemocracy activists in Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey, Russia, Mexico, India, and even the host state Indonesia, were superseded by “other priorities.” In Indonesia, human rights defender Victor Yeimo, who has spoken out on the rights abuses occurring in West Papua, was arrested in May 2021, reportedly due to his involvement in antiracism and self-determination protests two years prior. Charged with crimes including treason, he remained in detention while the G20 met. His case and others across the various member states should have been highlighted, as respect for international human rights principles and commitment to strong democracies are key to long-term national and global security and economic stability.

Scott Walker, a Researcher at the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, a and a Research Assistant within the Faculty of Law, Monash University.decided to draw attention to an important case concerning climate justice; On 10 December 2022 the world marks Human Rights Day commemorating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) in 1948.  This year’s theme is dignity, freedom, and justice for all, in anticipation of the 75thanniversary of the UDHR in 2023. It gives us cause to reflect on the mobilising force that the UDHR has become in the struggle for human rights across the world. Yet, there is always more work to be done to truly achieve a world in which dignity, freedom, and justice is a lived reality for all. To do so we must utilise human rights both as a guidepost for advocacy and a tool for concrete, on the ground change to address some of the most pressing and ongoing challenges facing our world; including the immediate and catastrophic impacts of climate change

Here in Australia, the path to domestic enshrinement of human rights has been a meandering one: only two States (Victoria and Queensland) and one Territory (the Australian Capital Territory) have Human Rights Acts. Yet, the capacity of these Human Rights Acts to achieve real and meaningful change in people’s lives is profound. Increasingly, people on the frontline of the climate crisis are also turning towards human rights to achieve justice. The potential impact of human rights-based climate litigation was recently demonstrated in the decision of the Land Court of Queensland in Warratah Coal Pty Ltd v Youth Verdict Ltd. In this case, the Court recommend against the grant of a mining lease and environmental authority to allow Warratah Coal to mine thermal coal in Queensland’s Gallilee Basin.  This case deserves closer examination to illustrate the way in which human rights enshrined in law can be mobilised in claims for climate justice.  

On 10 December 2022, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF), the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization, announced this year’s recipients of 20 Global Innovation Small Grants as a part of the organization’s Global Partnerships Program. The grants range from $1,000 to $5,000 and are awarded to organizations around the world working to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people in these countries. This announcement coincides with International Human Rights Day, which is celebrated annually around the world, marks the December 10 anniversary of the United Nations adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The declaration was the first of its kind and recognized that “every human being is born free and equal in rights and dignity.” The grants support members of of HRC’s growing global alumni network, which now consists of some 200 LGBTQ+ advocates in close to 100 countries. All of them have participated in one of the HRC Foundation’s global programs, including the flagship annual Innovative Advocacy Summit.


The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, December 9, 2022 Ahead of International Human Rights Day on December 10, CHRD celebrated the courage and bravery of human rights advocates and calls on the Chinese government to stop violating its obligations to protect human rights and free those detained for exercising their human rights. We urge the international community to keep hope alive and continue supporting defenders on the forefront. 

In recent years. Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, has suffocated civil society and space for free expression, jailed COVID whistleblowers, journalists, lawyers, labor organizers and feminists, LGBTQ+ activists and religious practitioners. Yet we are encouraged by the glimmers of hope that have emerged in the recent protests. The protests demanding political changes began with spontaneous gatherings to pay tribute to Uyghur victims in the Urumqi FireThe rapidly spreading protests, led by youth, likely proved to be the last straw in forcing the Chinese Party-State to reverse course on its draconian “zero-COVID” measures. 

Reasons for hope: Young people have brought new vitality to the fight for human rights

The scope of this short-lived wave of protests in cities across China was enormous, comparatively speaking. Thus far, there have been at least 68 protests across 31 cities since November 25according to the Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). And it has largely been young people who have led the protests. The Urumqi apartment complex fire, which took the lives of at least ten Uyghur women and children, as rescue was obstructed by barriers thought to be erected for COVID lockdown but likely for  “counter-terror” measures, brought people into the streets to mourn the loss of lives, to assemble and speak out against the devastating zero-COVID control and the political system that made such control possible.   

https://freedomhouse.org/article/imprisoned-not-forgotten-rights-abuses-and-global-events-hide-th

https://genevasolutions.news/human-rights/volker-turk-it-s-my-duty-to-be-the-voice-of-human-rights

Short message from the new High Commissioner for Human Rights: Volker Turk

October 18, 2022

On 17 October 2022 Volker Türk begun his mandate as the 8th UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/15/new-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-volker-turk-the-man-for-an-impossible-job/

New High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk – the man for an impossible job?

September 15, 2022

On 23 June 2022 Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group posted a Blog: “Time to ask again: is being the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights an impossible job?”

In February 2018, he published a blog on the early departure of the previous High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The blog responded to David Petrasek’s article in OpenGlobaRights, entitled ‘Another one bites the dust’ (8 February 2018).

Limon argues that the High Commissioner position is, in fact, several jobs rolled into one. The mandate of the High Commissioner and his/her Office comprises inter alia:

  • Monitoring and speaking out about human rights violations around the world – ‘preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world,’ (OP4f of GA resolution 48/141 of 7 January 1994).
  • Acting as the Secretariat to the ‘competent bodies of the United Nations system in the field of human rights and [making] recommendations to them,’ (OP4b of GA res. 48/141).
  • Providing capacity building, advisory services and technical assistance, at the request of the State concerned, ‘with a view to supporting actions and programs in the field of human rights,’ (OP4d, GA res. 48/141).
  • Engaging in human rights diplomacy (‘dialogue’) with governments and ‘enhanc[ing] international cooperation,’ in order to promote the implementation of international human rights obligations and commitments, and respect for human rights, (OP4g, OP5h, GA res. 48/141).
  • Coordinating human rights mainstreaming across the UN system, (OP4i, GA res. 48/141).
  • Making recommendations and driving efforts to ‘rationalize, adapt, strengthen and streamline the United Nations machinery in the field of human rights with a view to improving its efficiency and effectiveness,’ (OP4j, GA res. 48/141).

It is clear that, when held in the hands of a single human being, these different parts of the High Commissioner’s overall mandate operate in tension and are, perhaps, even mutually incompatible…

Is it possible for one person to wear all these hats at the same time? Can a single person publicly criticise States in one breath, then in the next reach out to them to forge agreement on reform of the UN human rights system or to provide human rights technical assistance?

Petrasek has made no secret of his belief (apparently shared by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres) that Zeid over-prioritised human rights monitoring and public advocacy, to the detriment of almost all other parts of his mandate. Yet for many other civil society representatives in Geneva and for many Western diplomats, this singlemindedness (together with Zeid’s natural eloquence) made the former High Commissioner something of a cult hero and the perfect High Commissioner,

Fast forward four and a half years and Zeid replacement as High Commissioner, the former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, has also fallen on her sword – yet for precisely the opposite reasons as Zeid.

Bachelet was handpicked by Guterres to mark a clear break from Zeid by pursuing a more holistic and balanced approach to the role and mandate of the High Commissioner. In addition to public advocacy Bachelet tried to emphasise human rights diplomacy, international cooperation, support for the international human rights machinery, a focus on emerging thematic human rights concerns (e.g., climate change, the right to a healthy environment, prevention, digital technology), and the on-the-ground delivery of technical assistance and capacity-building support.

See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/06/09/disappointment-with-un-high-commissioners-visit-to-xinjiang-boils-over/ and

In truth, the world needs a High Commissioner Zeid and a High Commissioner Bachelet. The question is: is that possible? Maybe other solutions might be considered? Might, perhaps, the High Commissioner focus on public advocacy, and the Deputy High Commissioner on the more cooperation-orientated aspects of the mandate? Maybe different Deputies could be appointed for each of the main ‘baskets’ of the High Commissioner’s overall mandate? Or maybe the parts of the mandate related to the human rights machinery could be ‘spun off’ – for example, into a new position of secretary-general of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and of the Treaty Bodies?

These are difficult and sensitive questions, and yet it is surely important that they be asked and considered now rather than later. Perhaps today, as the Secretary-General ponders the appointment of the next High Commissioner, is an opportune moment to do so?

On September 7, 2022, the UN announced Secretary-General António Guterres’ decision to appoint Volker Türk, an Austrian national, to replace Michelle Bachelet.

Reactions were swift, most of them expressing the need for action, e.g. “The new UN high commissioner for human rights should neither seek nor expect a honeymoon period from UN member states,” said Tirana Hassan, interim executive director of Human Rights Watch on 8 September “What’s needed by the millions of people around the world whose rights are being violated every day is an advocate in their corner who will take on abusive governments large and small without fear and without hesitation.”

Yoni Ish-Hurwitz, Executive Director of Human Rights Likeminded Office was invited by the Universal Human Rights Group on 12 September, 2022, to contribute a Blog `’Who is Volker Türk?’:

Opinions have already begun forming about Volker Türk in the short time since the announcement of his appointment last week as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. However, in the absence of a public competition, there was little opportunity to learn about Türk. He is also not well-known outside of the UN (and had few followers on twitter until last week). Therefore, in the absence of personal familiarity, it may be useful to focus on his biography, body of work and statements. This would lead to a better understanding of why he was selected for this role. [DISCLAIMER; I happen to know him personally from my days in UNHCR. He has always struck me as an honest and dedicated person with a pronounced interest in the human rights side of refugee work.]

Central to Türk’s biography is his long professional relationship with the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. They worked together at UNHCR when Guterres led the agency as High Commissioner for Refugees. When Guterres became UN Secretary-General, Türk joined him in New York, to serve as Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination in the Executive Office. Guterres promoted him in January, to the rank of Under-Secretary-General for Policy, also in the Executive Office, perhaps setting him up to take the role of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Having a close confidant as the High Commissioner may be especially important for the Secretary-General at present, considering the significant current political challenges he faces. This is especially the case in the aftermath of the release of the long-awaited report on Xinjiang by the former High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. She spared Türk the need to continue holding this hot potato. However, China won’t let Türk off the hook, and will likely exert pressure on him, as it has done with Bachelet, to carefully weigh his words and the way he manages his Office’s work on China. In the meantime, Chen Xu, the Permanent Representative of China in Geneva, announced that ‘the Office closed the door of cooperation by releasing the so-called assessment.’ This means that this is one political crisis that will not end with Bachelet’s departure.

One key question is whether the new High Commissioner will prioritise engagement over speaking truth to power. Bachelet was criticised of doing just that following her recent statements on China, until she released her report at the 11th hour on the job. .. On the face of it, it may appear that Guterres selected a diplomat, rather than an advocate. Türk is a UN career officer through and through, and as such he is in a better position to offer ‘good offices,’ as the UN does, compared to any former Head of State that could have taken the High Commissioner’s post. Among his predecessors were two presidents, two supreme court judges, one foreign minister and one permanent representative to the UN headquarters. However, every day before walking into his new office, the face that Türk will see first is that of his predecessor Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who also spent most of his career in UNHCR. He was commemorated in a bust at the entrance to Palais Wilson, four years after his death in a bombing at UN headquarters in Iraq.

Türk worked in the UN refugee agency for over 30 years, including in the field. Coming from within the UN system is an asset for navigating organisational politics, fostering collaboration with other parts of the UN, enhancing the contribution of OHCHR to all relevant UN fora, and understanding how to engage with Member States to address the situation of the most vulnerable people. His intimate understanding of the UN system is manifested in two major initiatives he stewarded – the Secretary-General’s flagship report, Our Common Agenda, as well as the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights. This may not be the place to analyse their successes or shortcomings, but it can be said that they were both well-received. Our Common Agenda offered a vision for mobilising the UN to address global challenges. OHCHR needs a manager with this kind of foresight to grasp the organisation’s structure, programmes and needs. The second initiative, the Call to Action for Human Rights, identified areas for action to advance human rights. As High Commissioner, perhaps Türk will be in a better position to support the implementation of the Call to Action.

This work demonstrates deep engagement on human rights. His legal background, holding a doctorate in international law, will support his role as an advocate. He can substantively articulate concerns and uphold norms based in international human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law. He certainly appears as an advocate on twitter (@volker_turk). His tweets show his compassion, as he mostly addresses human rights concerns, with people at the centre.

Civil society was concerned about the selection process. Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), said: ‘The lack of transparency and meaningful consultation with independent civil society in the selection process meant that the Secretary-General missed a key opportunity to build the legitimacy and authority of the next High Commissioner.’ The appointment of the Secretary-General’s confidant may have reaffirmed worries that the High Commissioner would prioritise diplomacy and engagement over advocacy for human rights. However, Türk appears to have the appropriate biography and a heart in the right place to fulfil both of the High Commissioner’s roles as an advocate and a diplomat. Hopefully he will be attentive to civil society and rights-holders, in line with his advice during his time as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR: ‘Listen to what refugees are telling us.’

After being appointed at the last minute as the next UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk is not expected to be at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council, held from 12 September to 7 October. When he does, Turk will have to grapple among other challenges with his predecessor’s report on Xinjiang, but for the moment deputy high commissioner Nada Al Nashif is in charge of the UN rights office and will have to answer any questions about China that might come up during the first days of debate..

https://www.universal-rights.org/uncategorized/time-to-ask-again-is-being-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-an-impossible-job/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/08/un-new-rights-chief-should-speak-out-all-victims