US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressed concern over “China’s efforts to restrict and manipulate the visit of the UN’s top human rights official to Xinjiang.”
„Die Vereinigten Staaten sind nach wie vor besorgt uber den Besuch der UN-Hochkommissarin für Menschenrechte Michelle Bachelet und ihres Teams in der Volksrepublik China (PRC) und die Bemühungen der VR China, ierrren Besuchen yin agen a” manschund Bäschen ipen Saturday.
“We are concerned that the conditions imposed by the Beijing authorities on the visit did not allow for a full and independent assessment of the human rights environment in the People’s Republic of China, including in Xinjiang, where genocide and crimes against humanity continue.”
Previously, Bachelet said she had urged the Chinese government to review its anti-terror policy in Xinjiang and requested information on the missing Uyghurs at the end of a six-day visit to China.
The claim came while speaking to more than 120 reporters at the Zoom conference from Guangzhou, but she has been criticized by human rights groups for giving too few details or condemning China while willingly issuing lengthy and incoherent statements on topics presented by the United States.
Hours after the press conference, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu told state media that Bachelet’s visit “provided an opportunity to observe and experience real Xinjiang first hand.”
Xinjiang has been the scene of years of Chinese authorities’ crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, with sweeping policies of religious, cultural, linguistic and physical repression.
Human rights organizations and many governments have described the campaign as genocide or crimes against humanity. Beijing denies all allegations of mistreatment and says its policies are aimed at combating terrorism and religious extremism.
Bachelet had been seeking access to the region for several years, with negotiations stalled over Covid restrictions and office calls for full access and Beijing requesting to be friendly and not investigate. The tour was met with widespread concerns that authorities might choose it as a publicity stunt.
Her comments on Saturday began by emphasizing that her visit was not an investigation.
“Official visits by the High Commissioner are of a high-level nature and are not conducive to … investigative work,” she said.
Referring to Xinjiang, Bachelet said she was aware of the harm caused by “violent extremism” but said it was critical that counter-terrorism measures “not in and of themselves be human rights violations.”
“It has raised questions and concerns about the widespread application and use of counter-terrorism and extremism measures, particularly their impact on the rights of Uyghurs and other Muslim-majority minorities,” she said.
“Although I am unable to assess the full scope of the VET centers, I have noted the government’s lack of independent judicial oversight over program implementation,” she said, using China’s term for the network of detention centers through which an estimated one million Uyghurs have passed.
She said the government assured her of the abolition of the VETC system and encouraged her to conduct a review of its policies to ensure their full compliance with human rights standards.
In 2019, China announced that all “trainees” had “graduated” from the centers, but human rights groups said many had been transferred to factories or prisons under the alleged forced labor programmes.
During the closed tour, Bachelet said she was able to meet with top officials, law enforcement officials, civil society and senior government officials, including Foreign Minister and President Xi Jinping.
She praised China’s achievements, including eradicating poverty 10 years before its goal, universal health coverage, labor protection, and new laws designed to better protect the rights and interests of women and children.
Bachelet expressed concern about the punishment of human rights lawyers and human rights defenders, the “arbitrary detention” of the home surveillance program, and the “extremely disturbing” crackdown in Hong Kong. She called for the protection of religious and cultural freedoms in Tibet.
The press conference lasted 45 minutes and Bachelet answered fewer than 10 questions. At least four of them were from Chinese state media, where Bachelet provided detailed answers on human rights issues in the United States while appearing vaguely on many questions about Xinjiang.
When asked about the freedom of Uyghurs to speak with them freely in one of the most monitored regions in the world, Bachelet confirmed that she and her team met with many individuals and civil society groups prior to the China trip.
“Being part of a bubble, of course [on the China trip] …we were able to meet some but not all of the people, but the people we were able to talk to were unsupervised.”
Bachelet said the visit to the men’s prison in Kashgar was “fairly open and transparent” but that it was unclear why the men were being held because they “are not necessarily held for terrorism…but for other types of crimes.”
When asked about allegations that some Uyghur families were locked in their homes while visiting to prevent them from speaking to her, Bachelet said she and her team closely monitored all instances of intimidation and raised individual cases with authorities — including missing family members — but he could not divulge details.
Bachelet’s press conference drew criticism from some rights groups and activists.
“This was the moment when she was telling the truth to the power, and she felt she had missed out on a lot,” said Rehan Asat, an Uyghur activist and international human rights lawyer, whose brother is imprisoned in Xinjiang.
It was a moment we thought would change the lives of Uyghurs. The historical significance of this trip is that the United Nations can be the mediator to engage with China, change its behavior, and alleviate human suffering. So I am very disappointed to hear her testimony. It was too little condemnation and too many widely conciliatory remarks regarding China’s human rights record.”
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said the tour and press conference were “exactly what the Chinese government wanted.”
“It has not materially challenged it with respect to the facts, nor has it committed itself to an investigation of crimes against humanity. It has made a ridiculous appeal to the Chinese government’s understanding of ‘pluralism’…and last but not least, no information has been provided to victims or survivors,'” Richardson added.
Bachelet’s visit coincided with the reporting of a major leak within Xinjiang’s law enforcement system. The treasure trove included photos of thousands of people arrested by authorities, databases of arrests for crimes including Bible study and foreign visits, and internal documents detailing escape-attempted murder policies and other enforcement actions.
The office has also come under pressure from human rights groups over the long-awaited UN report on human rights abuses in Xinjiang, due to be completed in the new year. In February, China reportedly asked the OHCHR not to release him before the Beijing Winter Olympics.
“My visit was not an investigation into Chinese human rights policies and practices, so it is not related to the report in that sense,” Bachelet told a reporter.
Richardson urged Bachelet to publish the report.
“I look forward to reading this report tomorrow. If they are committed to ending impunity, and if they are committed to helping governments achieve the highest human rights standards, they should declassify them now.”