The recent visit to China by the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, sparked intense criticism from human rights groups worldwide. The groups denounce the atrocious crimes against humanity carried out by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against certain ethnic and religious minorities in the country.
After several years of announcing a possible UN visit to China to investigate the well-founded denunciations of serious human rights violations, it actually happened recently.
However, there is growing criticism from those who claim that a historic opportunity was missed to carry out a proper investigation to report the validity of the allegations made with certainty. Instead, Bachelet is accused of playing politics with the regime authorities and even making propaganda that benefits the regime.
Amnesty International (HRW) has been a major critic of Bachelet.
Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director, stated at a press conference that Bachelet’s recent trip to China, May 23-28, “could not have gone better for the Chinese government in its effort to conceal the mass detentions and abuses in Xinjiang.”
Most Western governments and many human rights organizations accuse the Chinese regime of detaining more than one million Uighurs, political dissidents, and practitioners of spiritual disciplines such as Falun Gong in forced re-education camps.
In this context, Bachelet is accused of having “adopted the rhetoric of Beijing,” who also referred to these camps as “educational and vocational training centers” instead of what they are: “concentration camps,” Roth said.
Bachelet “behaved during the visit as if it were a generous gesture from Beijing, when it is the obligation of every UN member to allow senior UN officials to enter,” and accused the High Commissioner of being “naive” for believing she could convince Chinese leaders, in private, to stop their abuses in Xinjiang.
Human rights lawyers in China ignored by Bachelet
In July 2015, more than 300 human rights lawyers in China were imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), accused of conspiring against the state for simply defending people who, for spiritual, religious, or political differences, were being persecuted by the communist regime.
Days before Bachelet visited China, the human rights group representing the detained lawyers sent a letter to the High Commissioner requesting that she pay a visit to the three most prominent lawyers detained in various prisons in China.
The letter describes the context in which the three lawyers are detained, the illegality of their trials, the appalling conditions where they are held, and the limited contact they are allowed to have with their families and defense lawyers.
“We would like to appeal once again to you personally and to the UN to pay more attention to these three lawyers and take this opportunity to visit them!” the letter ends.
However, none of the three lawyers was visited, and Bachelet made no reference to them in public dialogues with regime officials, nor did she respond to the letter sent.
47 countries of the UN Human Rights Council write a harsh letter to Bachelet
A Joint Declaration on the human rights situation in China signed by 47 member countries of the UN Human Rights Council has been added, with a critical tone due to the lack of transparency of Bachelet’s visit to China.
The Declaration highlights concerns about the situation in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, where credible reports indicate that millions of Uighurs have been arbitrarily detained. It also cites reports alleging intense discrimination against Uighurs and abhorrent physical mistreatment, including torture, forced sterilization, sexual violence, labor exploitation, and forced separation of children from their parents.
Concern about the deteriorating respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in Tibet is also highlighted.
Finally, it highlights the interest in obtaining more detailed observations on Bachelet’s recent visit to China, including the restrictions that the Chinese authorities imposed on her visit, as well as on her access to members of civil society and places of her choice.
The statement ends by saying: “Madame High Commissioner, recalling your announcement at HRC48 that your office would release a report on human rights in Xinjiang, we look forward to its prompt release. Could you provide the Council with further information on the timeline?”
Activists and several Western governments, from Britain to the EU, have urged the former Chilean president to publish a long-awaited report on China’s treatment of its Uighur population in Xinjiang.
In response to the latest calls, Bachelet said last Monday that her office was updating its official assessment of the situation in Xinjiang and would share it with the Chinese regime to obtain “factual comments before publication.” However, she did not clarify when the report would be released for public review.
Bachelet resigns from her next term
In a tweet posted last week, following the barrage of criticism received for her performance during the China visit, the UN human rights chief announced her decision to resign, citing “personal reasons.”
Human rights activists welcomed Bachelet’s decision not to seek a second term as UN human rights chief. “It’s a great victory for activists who are absolutely disgusted with her visit to China,” Luke De Pulford, human rights activist and coordinator of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, told the media.
According to Pulford, Bachelet failed to achieve any “meaningful investigation” of Xinjiang. As a result, she failed to do her job as UN human rights commissioner, which is to stand up for oppressed and persecuted human rights people.”
According to the UN Human Rights office, Bachelet could not talk to any prisoners in Xinjiang or their families. Instead, she was limited to talks with regime officials and prison authorities. The office argued that strict COVID protocols in China would have conditioned her movements.