At a press conference on Tuesday in Geneva, the new United Nations human rights chief said that his office has opened “channels of communication” to help follow up on concerns about the rights of minorities in China, such as the Uyghur Muslims and the Tibetans. Activists, however, had hoped for a more robust message to Beijing, and this fell short of their expectations.


In a speech eagerly awaited by human rights activists, High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk failed to explain how his office will follow up on Michelle Bachelet’s critical report on China’s western Xinjiang region, published in August. As one example of “crimes against humanity,” the report suggested that Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang may have been subject to persecution.

According to Türk, the UN rights office “documented grave concerns,” such as arbitrary detentions and family separations in China, and demanded “concrete follow-up.” He was also worried about the effects of Hong Kong’s national security law, which he said had stifled the territory’s pro-democracy movement.

“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,” Türk said at the most recent session of the Human Rights Council.
Since taking office in October, this was his first opportunity to present the office’s annual report. It ranged from Afghanistan to Zambia and touched on issues as varied as gender inequality, discrimination, war, and climate change.
The human rights chief brought up Russia’s war in Ukraine, the ongoing conflict in Syria, and the unrest in Mali and Burkina Faso. He also voiced concern over the increasing repression of political activism, free speech, and dissent in some regions of Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.
And he added, “recently in Australia, France, Ireland, and the United Kingdom there have been reports of police using excessive force, racial profiling, and discriminatory practices.”

He voiced “deep concern” about “multiple trends” in Russia, including the shuttering of independent media and activist groups’ offices and the “constant” broadcasting of pro-war messages by state media, which he claimed “feed stereotypes and incite hatred and violence.”

A lot of people were tuning in to hear Türk’s thoughts on the human rights situation in China, particularly those working in advocacy groups.

Amnesty International’s chief executive officer, Agnes Callamard, said last month that Türk should “publicly put his weight” behind Bachelet’s report by including “a significant brief on Xinjiang that reflects the gravity of the findings” in the council session.

‘It will be an important message in many ways,’ she assured the ACANU press corps. The high commissioner, in my opinion, will be evaluated in large part based on his boldness and willingness to challenge major powers like China.

“Mouthed not a word of criticism of China,” as former Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth put it, is what Türk is accused of having said.

“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.