UN rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet said she had reached an agreement with China for a visit in May (Photo: AFP/Fabrice COFFRINI)
GENEVA: Dozens of rights groups called on Wednesday (Jun 8) for the resignation of UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, charging that she "whitewashed" Beijing's "atrocities" during her trip to China last month.
More than 230 groups, many advocating for the rights of Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Hong Kongers, signed a joint statement calling for "the immediate resignation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights".
The signatories, which included a number of national and local chapters of the same groups, also urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to refrain from proposing a second term when her mandate expires at the end of August.
Bachelet has faced widespread criticism for not speaking out more forcefully against Chinese abuses during the long-planned trip, which took her to the far-western Xinjiang region, where China is alleged to have detained over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, as well as carried out forced sterilisation of women and coerced labour.
The United States has labelled China's actions in Xinjiang a "genocide" and "crimes against humanity", allegations vehemently denied by Beijing which says its security crackdown in the region was a necessary response to extremism.
Wednesday's statement said Bachelet had "squandered a rare opportunity to promote accountability by failing to address the litany of systematic human rights violations committed by the Chinese authorities".
'FAILED IN HER DUTY'
Instead, they said, "She whitewashed the Chinese government's human rights atrocities," and "legitimised Beijing's attempt to cover up its crimes by using the Chinese government's false 'counter-terrorism' framing".
They also decried that she had repeatedly referred to the detention camps in Xinjiang by the Chinese government's preferred term: "vocational education and training centres".
In particular, they lamented that she has so far failed to release a report on the rights situation in China, completed last year, despite mounting demands for it to be made public.
"The repeated, open-ended, and unexplained delays call into serious question the credibility of her office to fulfil its mandate," the statement said.
The signatories said Bachelet had been "entirely silent on the human rights crisis enveloping Tibet" during her four years in office, and had "grossly underplayed the crackdown" in Hong Kong.
"The failed visit by the high commissioner has not only worsened the human rights crisis of those living under the Chinese government's rule, but also severely compromised the integrity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in promoting and protecting human rights globally," the statement said.
While no large international rights groups signed on to Wednesday's statement, Human Rights Watch told AFP it shared in the signatories' frustration.
"When a government committing atrocity crimes praises her visit, and Uyghurs and others facing abuse feel betrayed and are calling for her resignation, it's a clear indication that Bachelet has failed in her duty as high commissioner," John Fisher, HRW's deputy director of global advocacy, said in an email.
The UN rights chief, he said, "should work to rebuild this shattered trust by immediately publishing her long-overdue report on Xinjiang abuses, and taking concrete steps to identify the missing and detained and seeking to reunite them with their loved ones".
Bachelet is also expected to face significant scrutiny from states over her China trip during the next week's session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.