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UN human rights chief seeks to expand its work by establishing a first-time presence in India and China

On Monday, the United Nations human rights chief appealed for increased support for his office as he aims to expand its work by establishing a presence in India and China, the world’s two most populous countries, whose human rights records are facing growing scrutiny.

The UN human rights office, established after World War Two, is currently present in 95 countries, and its leader plays a crucial role in identifying suspected human rights abusers and working with countries to bring about change.

Volker Turk, who assumed the role of high commissioner in late 2022, used his opening speech at the UN Human Rights Council to call for greater cooperation. He specifically mentioned states like Syria, Iran, Israel, and Russia that should enhance their efforts.

During the opening of the council’s four-week session in Geneva, Turk stated, “We would now like to scale up engagement,” emphasizing that the world is at a “critical juncture” 75 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He also expressed the importance of establishing a presence for the first time in China and India.

There has been no immediate response from China or India’s diplomatic missions in Geneva regarding this proposal.

Establishing an office in China may prove challenging for Turk’s office. Negotiations took several years to pave the way for a visit to China by his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, with concerns raised about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims. China denies any human rights abuses.

The United States has expressed concern about a rise in human rights abuses by Indian officials, while India has stated that it values human rights.

A UN human rights spokesperson mentioned that Turk discussed the idea of establishing the two new offices during meetings with governments but did not provide details about their response.

More broadly, Turk expressed concern about the “strangulation of civil society in several countries,” without specifically naming them.

Turk also expressed his desire to double his office’s budget to strengthen global monitoring. However, this may face challenges as many countries oppose further scrutiny based on sovereignty grounds.

Despite being one of the four pillars of the United Nations, alongside peace and security, the rule of law, and development, the human rights sector receives only 4% of the general budget.

Turk also called on the United States to take urgent action on racial discrimination and to ratify six human rights treaties, including one focused on child rights.


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