UN Human Rights Council head Volker Turk has highlighted the scale of Russia’s war in Ukraine and Moscow’s crackdown on internal dissent. He also warned about the rights of minorities in China — and some Western nations.
The sheer magnitude of destruction caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine will harm future generations, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Tuesday when delivering his office’s annual assessment of rights around the world.
Türk opened his wide-ranging speech, which also addressed China and the rights of minorities in some Western nations, saying that the war represented a failure of promises made after World War II.
What the UNCHR chief said
“The war in Ukraine has led to civilian casualties and destruction of a shocking magnitude,” Türk told a UN session in Geneva.
“The rights of Ukrainians will be harmed for generations to come, and the war’s impact on fuel and food prices, as well as geopolitical tensions, are impacting negatively on people in every region of the world.
“That such damage could once again be done across the world by warfare in Europe is a betrayal of the promises of transformative change made at our foundation over 75 years ago.”
Turk also accused Moscow’s state media of bombarding Russian people with bellicose messages that stir up hatred.
“Constant pro-war messages on state media feed stereotypes and incite hatred and violence,” he said.
He highlighted the closure of independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper and Russia’s oldest human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, as “another sign of the demise of Russia’s civic space.”
Turk also pointed out that authorities had launched more than 180 criminal cases over alleged defamation of the Russian military.
“Since December, any person or entity considered to be ‘under foreign influence’ — an overly wide and vague qualification — can be designated as a ‘foreign agent’ and subjected to numerous restrictions,” he added.
‘Grave concerns’ over China
Beyond Russia, Türk called for Beijing to address serious fears over the human rights situation in China’s far-western Xinjiang province.
The UN has faced pressure from Western nations and rights organizations to take a firm stand on Xinjiang after his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, delivered a blistering report that cited possible crimes against humanity in the region.
“In the Xinjiang region, my office has documented grave concerns — notably large-scale arbitrary detentions and ongoing family separations — and has made important recommendations that require concrete follow-up.”
In what was his first set-piece speech to the council, Türk voiced unease about the far-reaching national security law in Hong Kong imposed in 2020.
China introduced the law to smother dissent after large and often violent pro-democracy demonstrations in the territory.
“We also have concerns about the severe restriction of civic space more generally, including the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and lawyers, and the impact of the National Security Law in Hong Kong,” Türk said.
Broader palette of concerns
Türk, who is Austrian, said his main message was for governments to listen to people, victims and the defenders of human rights.
The speech covered an array of concerns like the erosion of women’s rights, discrimination, conflict and climate change, and touched on countries from Afghanistan to Zambia.
Türk highlighted continued fighting in Syria, as well as instability in Mali and Burkina Faso. He also expressed concerns about suppression of political activism in parts of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
The report also raised concerns about the “excessive use of force, racial profiling and discriminatory practices by police — most recently in Australia, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom.”