UN human rights chief ‘not able to speak to’ any detained Uygurs or their families in Xinjiang

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet confirmed on Wednesday that she was “not able to speak to any Uygurs currently detained or their families” during a recent visit to Xinjiang.

Addressing an interactive session at the 50th Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet confirmed that she was not able to move freely through the western Chinese region, where Beijing is accused of operating a widespread system of oppression against Uygurs and other ethnic Muslims.

“There were limitations, especially given the prevailing Covid restrictions. I was accompanied by government officials throughout the visit to Xinjiang,” Bachelet said.

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“I was not able to speak to any Uygurs currently detained or their families during the visit,” she said, adding that “in anticipation of this,” she met with former detainees before her visit, as well as “families who have lost contact with loved ones “.

Bachelet’s trip to China last month has been a divisive topic during this week’s council meeting.

On Tuesday, the Netherlands presented a letter signed by 47 mainly Western UN members urging “the Chinese government to provide meaningful and unfettered access for independent observers to Xinjiang”, and demanded that Bachelet publish a long-delayed report on conditions in the region.

On Monday, Bachelet confirmed that she would not be running for a second term in office, and that the report would be released before her tenure expires at the end of August.

“My visit provided an important opportunity to raise concerns directly with senior leaders and officials. It allowed me and my team to obtain certain impressions of the situation and provide ample space to ask questions and discuss issues,” she added on Wednesday.

“And as I mentioned already in my statement on Monday, my office has been collecting information remotely for some time. I will now update the assessment of the human rights situation in Xinjiang, and it will be shared with the government for factual comments before. publication. “

A separate group of 69 countries reportedly signed a counter statement, sponsored by Cuba, backing China’s positions on human rights and demanding that Bachelet’s office does not release the report. While the statement has been made public, its signatories have not.

Bachelet reiterated on Wednesday that the visit was not an investigation, but “a visit to engage with the government of China to promote the respect and protection of human rights and to explore ways from my office to assist the government to fulfill its obligation under international human rights law “.

She said Beijing facilitated meetings with “all the institutions I had asked to meet”, from the political, judiciary, business and academic spheres.

“The government also respected my wish to hold meetings with civil society organizations. These were organized by my office without the presence of public officials,” Bachelet said.

“In the context of the visit, a number of specific situations of concern were also raised, as it will be true of any high-level visit which by definition is not an investigative mission,” she added.

With only two African countries – eSwatini and Liberia – and a handful of Central American states – Belize, Guatemala and Honduras – among the signatories of the Dutch letter, the Xinjiang issue has caused a schism at the UN, largely between the developed and developing worlds .

The battle lines were again visible during Wednesday’s session, when a number of Western countries demanded the report be released immediately.

Some developing members praised China, using near identical language about the need for “objectivity” and “professionalism”, and to avoid “politicization” and “interference” in domestic matters.

“We call upon professionalism in these visits to be respected, to avoid double standards, political pressure and interference into domestic affairs,” the Bolivian ambassador told the session.

The Madagascan envoy “commended the efforts in the area of ​​human rights by the Chinese government for the development of the population across all of their territory”.

“Madagascar reiterates our appeal to avoid all politicization of the issues handled in our work, whilst also calling for the protection of populations in line with the preambles of the 15th of March 2006 General Assembly’s resolution on objectivity and non-selectivity of issues reviewed from the viewpoint of human rights. “

The US ambassador, meanwhile, reiterated accusations of “genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang.

“We urge you to immediately release your report on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. We remain deeply disturbed by the human rights situation in the PRC, particularly in light of new reports that offer further evidence of arbitrary detentions in Xinjiang,” she said.

Beijing is accused of widespread human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region. Photo: AP alt = Beijing is accused of widespread human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region. Photo: AP>

China’s stance on the issues has remained unmoved. Addressing the council on Tuesday, its ambassador Chen Xu slammed the “hyped-up so-called report on Xinjiang,” adding that it “should not be published at all.”

At a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin delivered a lengthy rebuke of allegations of forced labor in the region.

The claims are “a huge lie concocted by individual anti-China forces, which goes against common sense, facts and legal principles,” Wang said.

Campaigners blamed Bachelet’s lack of transparency prior to her trip to China for setting up an impasse at Xinjiang at the UN Human Rights Council.

“Bachelet’s failed visit has enabled China and many allies to praise Beijing’s so-called engagement. To break from this polarization, Bachelet needs to promptly release her Xinjiang report, and present it to the UN Human Rights Council. Forty-seven countries have called for this yesterday, the clock is ticking, “said Raphael Viana David, acting Asia program manager at the International Service for Human Rights.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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