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Uyghur Advocates: UN Human Rights Chief Should Resign for Whitewashing Chinese Atrocities

By Patrick Goodenough

May 31, 2022

( – Accusing U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet of having “legitimized and whitewashed” China’s atrocities in Xinjiang, a U.S.-based Uyghur advocacy group says she should resign.

The call from Campaign for Uyghurs (CFU) followed a long-delayed visit to China by Bachelet which left human rights activists as well as the U.S. and other governments disappointed.

Bachelet, the first U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit China in 17 years, ended her six-day trip with a carefully-worded statement, followed by a virtual press conference in Guangzhou.

Her visit was “not an investigation,” she said, but an opportunity to discuss human rights with senior leaders and “pave the way for more regular, meaningful interactions in the future,” with the aim of helping China to fulfill its international human rights obligations.

The U.S. government says China’s security policies in Xinjiang, including the documented incarceration of more than a million minority Muslim Uyghurs, together with other abuses including forced labor and forced sterilization, amount to crimes against humanity and genocide.

Beijing denies the allegations, describing the mass incarcerations and other restrictions as elements of an education and vocational program designed to counter Islamic radicalism.

Bachelet said in her statement that she had “raised questions and concerns about the application of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures and their broad application – particularly their impact on the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities.”

Using an acronym for the internment camps – VETCs – that aligns with China’s portrayal of them as “vocational and education training centers,” Bachelet said she had been unable to assess “the full scale of the VETCs,” but had raised with her hosts concerns about a lack of independent judicial oversight, allegations of ill treatment, and “reports of unduly severe restrictions on legitimate religious practices.”

“During my visit, the government assured me that the VETC system has been dismantled,” she said.

CFU accused Bachelet of adopting the Chinese Communist Party’s talking points on Xinjiang – such as its description of its policies as “de-radicalization” and “anti-terrorism” efforts – and of minimizing atrocities which amount to genocide.

“Bachelet legitimized and whitewashed the genocide and crimes against humanity by the Chinese communist regime,” said CFU executive director Rushan Abbas. “Bachelet had a choice to do her job with integrity. She chose not to. She must resign now.”

‘Stamp of approval’

Critics of the CCP had expressed concern ahead of the visit that, unless Bachelet was allowed completely unfettered access and was genuinely able to probe the policies and conditions in Xinjiang, it would simply provide her hosts with the opportunity to claim exoneration.

Beijing wasted no time in doing so.

“All lies and rumors related to Xinjiang have fallen apart in front of facts and truth,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday, claiming that Bachelet’s visit had “clarified misinformation.”

“After meetings and talks, conversations and field trips in Guangzhou and Xinjiang, the high commissioner had a deeper understanding and recognition of China’s path for human rights development, and had first-hand experience of Xinjiang’s reality with social security and stability, sound and sustained development and people’s well-being,” he said.

“China now has a stamp of approval from the U.N.,” CFU said. “The high commissioner should never have agreed to this visit without securing full access to the region. She has failed her duty of high commissioner and disgraced the world in doing so.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was “concerned the conditions Beijing authorities imposed on the visit did not enable a complete and independent assessment of the human rights environment in the PRC, including in Xinjiang, where genocide and crimes against humanity are ongoing.”

“We are further troubled by reports that residents of Xinjiang were warned not to complain or speak openly about conditions in the region, that no insight was provided into the whereabouts of hundreds of missing Uyghurs and conditions for over a million individuals in detention.”

From other observers came similar reactions to the now-completed visit.

“As expected, the high commissioner has wasted a historic opportunity to investigate the Uyghur genocide and deliver justice to the Uyghur people,” said World Uyghur Congress president Dolkun Isa, adding that Bachelet had “ruined her office’s credibility by aligning with China’s wishes.”

Human Rights in China said Bachelet’s “adoption of Chinese official terminology that evades and conceals the truth” – for example, “VETCs” – was deeply troubling.

Amnesty International secretary-general Agnes Callamard said the visit had been “characterized by photo opportunities with senior government officials and manipulation of her statements by Chinese state media, leaving an impression that she has walked straight into a highly predictable propaganda exercise for the Chinese government.”

Bachelet said during her press conference said she had visited a prison and had been allowed to speak to people in various contexts “unsupervised.” She had also been shown an “exhibition” set up in a hotel, “on the impact of terrorism” in Xinjiang.

She said China and the U.N. agreed to set up a working group to hold follow-up discussions on “specific thematic areas,” to facilitate exchanges and cooperation.

In their reactions to the visit, the rights groups called again on Bachelet’s office to release a report it has compiled on the situation in Xinjiang.

Bachelet said last September it was being finalized ahead of public release, but despite widespread appeals, including from the U.S. administration and lawmakers, the report remains under wraps.

During her end-of-visit press conference, Bachelet referred only in passing to the long-awaited report, saying, “we have been working on an assessment, but of course it always will need to be shared with the [Chinese] government” before it can be released.

Queries sent to Bachelet’s office about the process and timeline for the provision of the draft report to Beijing and its subsequent public release, remain unanswered.


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