Tightly held, highly anticipated and often delayed, formal assessment of situation in region follows human rights chief’s controversial visit
Fight over UN report comes as Washington policymakers show no signs of easing off their efforts to punish Beijing over alleged abuses
Jul 21, 2022
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet addressing the media on Wednesday in Lima, Peru. Bachelet has faced fierce criticism for her trip to Xinjiang in western China in May. Photo: Reuters
China has been lobbying behind the scenes at the UN's top human rights body to block the publication of a highly anticipated report on rights conditions for Uygurs and other minority groups in China's Xinjiang region, according to a document circulating among UN diplomats.
The "so-called assessment on Xinjiang is of grave concern to us", the document said. "The assessment, if published, will intensify politicisation and bloc confrontation in the area of human rights, undermine the credibility of the [Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights], and harm the cooperation between OHCHR and member states."
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"We strongly urge Madame High Commissioner not to publish such an assessment."
The document was first reported by Reuters and seen by the South China Morning Post.
The closely guarded UN Human Rights Council's report on Xinjiang has been in the works for many months, but its publication has been repeatedly delayed despite intense pressure from Uygur rights activists, the US and European governments, and others.
Bachelet had planned to update the report further after her trip to Xinjiang and then send it to the Chinese government to review for "factual comments" before publication. It is unclear if Beijing has seen the report yet.
In recent years, as a steady stream of evidence has leaked out of Xinjiang of mass detentions, cultural assimilation programmes, forced sterilisation and forced labour, Beijing has vehemently denied that any human rights abuses are taking place in Xinjiang.
The US government accuses Beijing of committing crimes against humanity and genocide in the region. Chinese leader Xi Jinping last week travelled to Xinjiang - his first visit since 2014, the year his government introduced hardline policies in the region - and called for "sinicization" of Islam there.
"As far as I understand, China is lobbying very hard in Geneva to kill the report," said a senior European diplomat. "So will there be a report? I'm not sure."
"The UN system today is very dependent on China, which is a problem," the person added.
A State Department spokesperson on Wednesday said the international community had been calling on Bachelet to release the report "for months" but that it had remained unavailable "despite frequent assurances by the Office of the High Commissioner that the report would be released in short order".
"We call on the High Commissioner to release the report without delay," the spokesperson added. "And we are highly concerned about any effort by Beijing to suppress the report's release."
This undated handout image released by The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation on May 24 purportedly shows police personnel engaged in an apparent anti-escape or anti-riot drill at the Tekes County Detention Centre in the Xinjiang Region of western China in February 2018. Photo: AFP/The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation alt=This undated handout image released by The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation on May 24 purportedly shows police personnel engaged in an apparent anti-escape or anti-riot drill at the Tekes County Detention Centre in the Xinjiang Region of western China in February 2018. Photo: AFP/The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation>
Asked about the document and report, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday that people in Xinjiang were living "a happy and fulfilling life" and that China "firmly opposes smears and attacks against China using disinformation".
A UN Human Rights Council spokesman, Jeremy Laurence, said the report would be published before the end of Bachelet's term, which is set to end on August 31.
"We have no comment concerning the document raised in the Reuters story," he said.
Bachelet faced fierce criticism for her trip to Xinjiang in May.
Afterwards, she said she lacked open access during the visit to meet people of her own choosing, including Uygurs in detention camps and their families. She also said she was accompanied by Chinese authorities during the trip.
Bachelet has since said she would not seek a second term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The fight over the UN report comes as policymakers in Washington show no signs of easing off their efforts to punish Beijing over the rights situation in Xinjiang.
The US is now weeks into implementing a sweeping new law more than a year in the making that effectively blocks all imports from Xinjiang.
In a survey of 34 leading US fashion companies published on Tuesday, more than 85 per cent of the respondents said they planned to cut their cotton apparel imports from China because of the law. Xinjiang produces about one-fifth of the world's cotton.
Another 45 per cent said they planned to further reduce their non-cotton apparel imports from China as well, according to the survey, which was conducted by the United States Fashion Industry Association and Dr Sheng Lu, an associate professor in the University of Delaware's department of fashion and apparel studies.
Also on Tuesday, the Hong Kong-based textile company Changji Esquel was blocked by a US federal appellate judge from its efforts to be removed from Washington's so-called "entity list" restricting exports to firms.
Changji Esquel was added to the list two years ago after the US government accused it of engaging in "the practice of forced labour involving members of Muslim minority groups in the XUAR", using an acronym for the region's official name, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
In a statement, the company criticised the US government's "shoddy enforcement action, which relied on a convenient trope, paltry evidence, and poor fact-finding".
Additional reporting by Robert Delaney
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.
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