In an attack on numerous crises throughout the world, the U.N. human rights head demanded on Monday a “urgent reversal” of military coups and the restoration of civilian authority in nations in Africa where such coups have recently ousted elected leaders.
As he inaugurated the fall session of the U.N.’s highest human rights body against the backdrop of conflicts and disasters, including the plight of migrants from Myanmar to Mali and Mexico, Volker Türk’s remarks established the early tone for the organization.
He cited the effects of climate change and a lack of investment in services like education and health care as factors that have encouraged extremism in the Sahel area issue, which has been going on for ten years and affects nations like Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
“The unconstitutional changes in government that we have seen in the Sahel are not the solution,” added Türk. “Instead, we urgently need a return to civilian governance and public forums where people can engage, influence, and criticize government action or inaction,”
In his all-encompassing speech to the Human Rights Council, Türk laid out a long list of issues, from the 1.2 billion people, half of whom are children, who now live in extreme poverty worldwide, to the “extreme gang violence” in Haiti and “nonchalance” regarding the deaths of 2,300 migrants in the Mediterranean this year.
He decried recent instances of public Quran burnings as “the latest manifestation of this urge to polarize and fragment — to create divisions, both within societies, and between countries.”
He supported the idea of establishing the crime of “ecocide” under international law to increase accountability for environmental damage and suggested the potential of a “international fact-finding mission” to look into human rights breaches related to the fatal 2020 explosion in Beirut.
In addition to other things, Türk urged nations to allow women to safely end pregnancies and warned that hasty deportations and expulsions of migrants and refugees along the US-Mexico border raised “serious issues.”
The opposition leader Alexei Navalny was given an additional 19 years in prison, and Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza was given a 25-year sentence. He warned that Russia’s authorities continue to use the legal system to silence critics, saying that this “raises serious concerns for both these individuals and for the rule of law.”
He also criticized China’s incarceration of human rights activists and called for “strong remedial action” in response to reports of abuses against Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang.
Türk also voiced his concern on a bill that would harshly punish Iranian citizens who disobey the nation’s rigorous enforcement of the hijab, or required headscarf, for women.
His comments were made just a few days before Mahsa Amini, 22, who was killed on September 16 after being imprisoned by Iran’s morality police for allegedly breaking the dress code, and the widespread demonstrations that followed her death.