UN rights chief seeks to establish presence in China and India

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) -The U.N. human rights chief called on Monday for greater support for his office as he seeks to expand its work by establishing a first-time presence in the world’s two most populous countries India and China, whose rights records are drawing more scrutiny.

The U.N. human rights office, established after World War Two, is present in 95 countries and its leader plays a key role in calling out suspected abusers as well as working with countries in question to bring about change.

Volker Turk, who took over as high commissioner in late 2022, used his opening speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday to urge greater cooperation and singled out states such as Syria, Iran, Israel and Russia that should do more.

“We would now like to scale up engagement,” he told the Geneva council at the opening of its four-week session, saying the world was at a “critical juncture” 75 years after adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“I also believe that it is important for us to establish a presence for the first time in China and India.”

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from China or India’s diplomatic mission in Geneva.

Setting up in China might prove difficult for Turk’s office.

Negotiations went on for years to clear the way for a 2022 trip there by his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, spurred in part by concerns about Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims. China denies any abuses.

The U.S. said it is monitoring a rise in rights abuses in India by officials. New Delhi has said it values human rights.

A U.N. rights spokesperson added that Turk had discussed the idea of the two new offices during meetings with governments but did not elaborate on their reaction.

More broadly, Turk had voiced concern about a “strangulation of civil society in several countries”, without naming them.

Turk said he would like to double his office’s budget to step up global monitoring although this may prove challenging given that many countries oppose further scrutiny on sovereignty grounds.

While human rights comprise one of the four United Nations “pillars”, alongside peace and security, the rule of law and development, it gets just 4% of the general budget.

Turk also called on the United States to act urgently on racial discrimination and to ratify six human rights treaties, including one on child rights.

(Reporting by Emma Farge, editing by Rachel More, Robert Birsel and Mark Heinrich)