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UN Rights Chief Vows to Protect Rights of Most Vulnerable

New U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Tuerk addresses a press conference at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, Nov. 2, 2022.
New U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Tuerk addresses a press conference at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, Nov. 2, 2022.

The new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Tuerk says he will use his position to advocate for the rights of people around the world, especially for the most vulnerable, powerless and repressed.

Tuerk said he has been on a learning curve since he assumed his post September 8, and much of what he has seen he does not like. He said he is taking up his functions at a time when the world is very divided and riven with political tensions.

Tuerk said he worries about the deepening politicization and polarization in the world. He adds that the artificial dichotomy between, on the one hand, civil and political rights, and on the other, social, economic and cultural rights is very harmful to people.

He said he worries about the decline of multilateralism as the world is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and is absorbing the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“When the world needs to be most united, we see that the world retracts in groupthink and in block mentality,” Tuerk said. “And, unfortunately, human rights are thrown into the vortex of these dynamics and has become a battlefield, which we cannot afford, and human beings cannot afford.”

And yet, he said, human rights violations continue unabated, often erupting into violence when people’s grievances are not addressed. In just the last two weeks, he said, protest movements have been violently repressed in several countries, including Iran, Sudan, South Sudan and Chad.

Tuerk said working to overcome these grievances by addressing the reasons behind them is one of the big issues facing him as high commissioner. He said he believes very much in advocacy, in pushing boundaries to advance the rights of people everywhere in the world.

“I will speak out when we feel that our voice can make a difference or when it is needed to amplify, especially the voices of victims and/or to sound the alarm bell,” he said. “I mean, that is very clear. That is the role of the high commissioner, and that is an important role.”

Tuerk said he will use all the tools at his disposal to advance human rights globally and has many available after working 30 years for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, lastly as assistant high commissioner for protection.

He said 30 years of living and breathing human rights in action in the defense of the most vulnerable people has prepared him well for the challenges ahead.