In an exclusive interview with the Eurovision News Exchange for the 75th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has spoken out about the situation in Gaza, violence against women in conflict, the situation of LGBTQ+ populations in Russia, and the impact of young people on human rights worldwide.
Speaking in Geneva to correspondents from two EBU Members, Philippe Revaz, journalist and presenter for Swiss broadcaster, RTS, and Kathrin Hondl, radio correspondent for ARD, Germany, Türk said:
“There must be a ceasefire (in Gaza). For humanitarian reasons, for human rights reasons, and both parties must find it.”
He went on to describe the situation as a total horror and asked to use the influence of powerful countries to create an environment conducive to peace. He highlighted the situation of his team in Gaza where “so many people have been killed so quickly in such a short period of time.”
He expressed concerns that the police in many countries are not necessarily trained in how to deal with the victims of violence if they are women. He also rejected the accusations of a late reaction in Israel and Gaza and said that “we have only recently received reports of sexual violence by Hamas in Israel. Of course we take them extremely seriously, and it’s terrible.”
Asked about other groups of people whose human rights are persistently violated, such as LGBTQ+ communities in Russia, and what he could actually do as Commissioner for Human Rights, Türk replied:
“Because in many countries, when we get draft laws for review on these issues…then we always have the opportunity to influence that, and we have already had some successes in some countries where it would have been very, very bad. If such bills were simply unacceptable, we would not have been able to solve them, especially as far as Russia is concerned. In such a situation, it is of course particularly important that we maintain close contact with civil society, including NGOs.”
Commenting on the general state of human rights, Türk said the 75th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights could be construed as a sad anniversary given that there are currently 55 conflicts ongoing worldwide:
"At the moment, it is a sad and dark moment, it must be said, but at the same time, we must also remember the fact that human rights issues have always been a force of transformation for societies and for cultures, but also to prevent conflicts. So it is clear that the humanitarian situation is absolutely precarious. We can no longer do normal humanitarian work. There are serious violations of international humanitarian law, but also human rights issues that are really implicated."
He ended the interview with a hopeful message, by emphasising the importance of small wins and the impact of younger generations in the battle for human rights worldwide: “We see among young people especially an enthusiasm that is also inspiring for everyone who works in this field.”
Volker Türk assumed the official function of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in October 2022. He has a long track record in advancing universal human rights, notably the international protection of some of the world's most vulnerable people - refugees and stateless persons. He has published widely on international refugee law and international human rights law.
The 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Human Rights 75 Initiative – is on 10 December 2023. This coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.