The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights will leave office on August 31, without seeking a second mandate. She failed spectacularly the first one.
By Abdulhakim Idris
August 31, 2022
Michelle Bachelet during her visit to China. Source: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Uyghur genocide is no longer unknown to the world. In the “Xinjiang Police Files” it was revealed that twelve percent of Uyghur adults were arrested in 2017 and 2018. In the light of several leaked documents about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) crimes against humanity, the U.S and several other countries have declared that the CCP is committing genocide. However, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, whose mandate is “to protect and promote human rights for all,” following the attitude of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, remained mute all along even after the watershed evidence of the CCP committing crimes against humanity. Bachelet’s mandate ends on August 31, and she has announced she will not seek to be appointed for a second term.
Michelle Bachelet’s highly anticipated visit to Uyghur homeland, East Turkestan (Ch. Xinjiang), left many disappointed and baffled. As an abuse victim herself, many thought that she would at least honor the mandate of her office and heed the early warning of this genocide. On the contrary, she went to East Turkestan and completely turned a blind eye to what was happening right under her nose. Coincidence? Not so much. Her ignorance towards this genocide and attitude of appeasing the perpetrator was not surprising given her background. Her father was a general who was arrested and died in prison during the Augusto Pinochet regime. She served as Minister of Health and Defense in a Socialist party. She became the president of Chile in 2006, then was re-elected again in 2014. In 2018, she became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was one of the staunchest supporters of Bachelet’s candidacy for the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Guterres himself is often criticized by human rights defenders for sweeping things under the ground. According to Human Rights Watch, Guterres remained unresponsive when former US President Donald Trump was accused of having “embraced authoritarian leaders and ignored human rights.” He ignored the genocide committed by China, one of the UN’s largest financial contributors. The Russian invasion of Ukraine did not bother him excessively either. Guterres faced a severe economic crisis in his second term as Socialist Prime Minister of Portugal. He is said to be sympathetic to Beijing because of China’s financial support for Portugal during that crisis.
China’s contribution to Portugal during the crisis may explain why Guterres supported Bachelet’s candidacy and attitudes. The year 2018, when Bachelet took office, was also the period when China started to increase the violence in the Uyghur homeland. Bachelet ignored the Uyghur genocide during her entire tenure, however, while continuing to criticize Western countries, especially the United States, at every opportunity she got. Incidentally, the fact that the Western countries do not give due importance to the sub-units in an umbrella organization like the United Nations has opened up space for China and the friends of the Beijing government to abuse the system. Unfortunately, the time when President Trump pulled the United States out of some international institutions, also coincided with Bachelet’s appointment as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Activities happening within the UN are reported directly or indirectly to China. Evidence has surfaced that, if there is any complaint against China, the information of the person making the complaint is sent to Beijing instead of investigating the complaint. The Chinese government, which has almost completely taken control of the world’s largest international organization, puts pressure on its friends like Bachelet when it could not implement its agenda. Although Bachelet ignored the Uyghur genocide, independent researchers commissioned by the UN prepared a report on human rights violations in the Uyghur region. As High Commissioner, Bachelet had no power to intervene in the report. The Chinese government, which does not tolerate even the slightest criticism, continues to deny the Uighur genocide and pressures Bachelet not to publish the report.
The visit of a former head of state, who lost her father in prison after a military coup, to examine human rights violations directly where they are occurring caused excitement and expectation, especially among non-governmental organizations. But Michelle Bachelet did the contrary of what many expected. She deeply disappointed the international community and all those advocating for human rights.
In the press conference after her visit to the Uyghur homeland, Bachelet emphasized that her visit to China was not an investigation but an opportunity to discuss human rights issues with senior officials and “pave the way” for continued talks. In other words, she continues to see China through a different lens: she praises China for its work on poverty, gender equality, and economic development. “In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, I have raised questions and concerns about the application of counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation measures and their broad application—particularly their impact on the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities.,” her statement said.
Bachelet’s statements garnered significant reactions from both states and non-governmental organizations. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern over China’s “efforts to restrict and manipulate” the visit of the UN’s top human rights official to the Xinjiang region.
The United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office also issued a statement noting that, “It is clear that the Chinese authorities did not provide the full, unfettered access to Xinjiang for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that our international partners and we have long called for. China’s failure to grant such access only highlights their determination to hide the truth.”
Germany added its voice, expressed disappointment, and requested that Bachelet’s office publish a report on the situation in Xinjiang “as soon as possible.”
Bachelet did not hide her admiration for China in the days during her presidency of Chile. “The world is currently turning more than ever toward the Pacific, and we must look in this direction,” she said. She went on about her interest in learning Chinese, and said “ the Confucius Institute is the main method of diffusing the Chinese culture and language in our country through courses, workshops, and cultural activities. I am thinking of registering next year in March.”
Bachelet also supported China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which will expand its global hegemony. After the Belt and Road Forum attended by leaders from 28 countries in 2017, she stated that this was a milestone in affirming China’s stronger global position. She praised BRI as part of the open trade policy that Chile has been committed to for many years. In the same forum, Bachelet emphasized that Chile wants to be a bridge between two geographical areas through China’s economic program BRI.
The latest evidence of the systematic use of torture by the Chinese regime against Muslim Uyghurs came to light in May this year due to the “hacking” of police computers in the Xinjiang region. It revealed that the “transformation through education camps” story that Beijing told to the international community was a complete lie. According to the documents, Muslim Uyghurs in the camps face the heaviest punishments and are systematically tortured. The documents contained over five thousand photographs taken in 2018. Guards with batons standing out alongside the Uyghurs were photographed in the camps. This disproved the lie that the camps are “vocational schools.” According to the internal correspondence of the Chinese police, armed officers must be present in all areas of the camps. In the watchtowers, there are machine guns and snipers. Those who try to escape are shot to death. When the Muslim Uyghurs in the camps are transferred to hospitals, they are blindfolded and handcuffed.
As I have mentioned in my book “Menace: China’s Colonization of the Islamic World & Uyghur Genocide,” representatives of the Chinese government have influence in many departments at the UN. Bachelet shined a bright light on the corrupt UN system and China’s reach through what she did while visiting the region where unspeakable atrocities are happening. She failed the UN mandate to protect those most vulnerable. Her legacy will be one of hunger for power and ignorance of genocide. In fact, with her close collaboration with the Chinese government, Bachelet made her office an accomplice in the Uyghur genocide.