Find the latest breaking news and information on the top stories, science, business, entertainment, politics, and more.

New UN rights chief opens ‘communication’ with China

Volker Türk’s first speech falls short of activists’ hopes for a tougher stance following UN report on abuses in Xinjiang.

The new United Nations human rights chief has said his office has opened “communication channels” to follow up on concerns about the rights of minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region, including Uyghur Muslims and Tibetans.

In a highly anticipated speech on Tuesday, the first presentation of the agency’s annual report since taking office in October, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk noted that his agency had called for a “concrete follow-up” of abuses, including arbitrary detentions and family separations in Xinjiang.

“We are also concerned about the severe restriction of public space in general, including the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and lawyers, and the impact of Hong Kong’s national security law,” he said.

Türk is under pressure from Western countries and rights organizations to take a strong stance on Xinjiang following a report published in August by his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, citing possible crimes against humanity.

His remarks fell short of activists’ hopes for a stronger message to Beijing. The former head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said Türk had “not uttered a single word of criticism of China”.

“He’s only offering silent diplomacy – ‘we’ve opened communication channels’ – as if he has any influence beyond the public reporting/condemnation he’s declaring,” Roth tweeted.

Türk’s speech marked the first presentation of his agency’s annual report since taking over in October. It addressed a range of concerns – such as women’s rights, discrimination, conflict and climate change – in a wide range of countries from Afghanistan to Zambia.

He also highlighted the Russian war in Ukraine, the ongoing fighting in Syria and instability in Mali and Burkina Faso, as well as the crackdown on dissent, free speech and political activists in parts of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

Türk further cited reports of “excessive use of force, racial profiling and discriminatory practices by the police – most recently in Australia, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom”.

He said he was “deeply concerned about multiple trends” in Russia, such as the closure of the offices of independent media and activist groups, and “constant” pro-war messages in state media that “feed stereotypes and incite hatred and violence”.

Interest groups had called on Türk to take a firm stance on China first and foremost.

Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said last month that Türk should “publicly give its weight” to Bachelet’s report and include in the council meeting “an important briefing on Xinjiang that reflects the seriousness of the findings” of the UN rights office.

“It will be an important message in many ways,” she told press organization ACANU. “I think the High Commissioner will be highly judged for his willingness and courage to take on China and other great powers.”