Volker Turk of Austria nominated to be next UN rights chief

UNHCR's Director for the Asia and Pacific region, Indrika Ratwatte, left, and Volker Tuerk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection (UNHCR), arrive for a press conference about his mission to Myanmar and Bangladesh, during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, November 10, 2017. (Credit: KEYSTONE/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

The Austrian lawyer is expected to be appointed next UN high commissioner for human rights later on Thursday.

The UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has nominated Volker Turk to become the next UN high commissioner for human rights, a week after the former rights chief Michelle Bachelet ended her term on 31 August.

Guterres notified states in the late hours of Wednesday, New York time, through an official document seen by Geneva Solutions. The UN chief is expected to seek UN members’ approval as early as Thursday, according to reports by the Austrian media.

Turk has been Guterres’s under secretary general for policy since January 2022. The Austrian lawyer worked for the UN Refugee Agency for over 30 year, holding various leadership positions in the Geneva-based organisation. Geneva Solutions had previously reported that Turk was among several candidates being considered for the position.

Read more: Who will succeed Bachelet as UN human rights chief?

The highly awaited news comes only five days before states gather for the Human Rights Council in Geneva, where Bachelet’s report on Xinjiang, released only minutes before her departure, is expected to trigger heated debates. Bachelet had been under “tremendous pressure from all sides”, as she had put it, to either withhold or release the report.

The UN rights chief unfilled vacancy had raised concerns about a lack of leadership to deal with the stingy issue at the Council’s upcoming 51st session. Every candidate that Guterres has proposed for the human rights position to the General Assembly in the past has been approved by consensus. If appointed, Turk will only have only a few days to prepare for what is likely to be a highly tense meeting.