GENEVA -- The new U.N. human rights chief said Tuesday that his office has opened “channels of communication” to help follow up on concerns about the rights of minorities in China, including Uyghur Muslims and Tibetans. But this fell short of activists' hopes for a stronger message to Beijing.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, in an address highly anticipated by rights advocates, didn't detail how his office plans to follow up on a critical report on China's western Xinjiang region published in August by his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet. That report cited possible “crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang.
Türk noted that the U.N. rights office “documented grave concerns" like arbitrary detentions and family separations in China, and called for "concrete follow-up.” He also voiced concerns about the impact of the national security law in Hong Kong that has suppressed its pro-democracy movement.
“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,” Türk told the Human Rights Council's latest session.
It was his first presentation of the office's annual report since he took office in October. It covered an array of concerns like pressure on women’s rights, discrimination, conflict and climate change, in a sweeping number of countries — from Afghanistan to Zambia.
The rights chief highlighted Russia's war in Ukraine, the continued fighting in Syria and instability in Mali and Burkina Faso. He also expressed concerns about crackdowns on dissent, free expression 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 police — most recently in Australia, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom."
He said he was “deeply concerned by multiple trends” in Russia like the closure of the offices of independent media and activist groups, and “constant” pro-war messages on state media that “feed stereotypes and incite hatred and violence.”
Advocacy groups had been particularly listening for Türk's take on the rights situation in China.
Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, said last month that Türk should “publicly put his weight” behind Bachelet's report and include in the council session “a significant brief on Xinjiang that reflects the gravity of the findings” of the U.N. rights office.
“It will be an important message in many ways,” she told the ACANU press association. "I think the high commissioner will be very much judged by his willingness and his courage to stand up to China and other superpowers.”
The former head of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, said that Türk had “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,” Roth tweeted.