Sight Magazine – UN human rights chief due to arrive in China for historic visit


Beijing, China/Geneva, Switzerland

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet begins a visit to China on Monday, the first trip for a post holder since 2005, fearing it will lead to endorsement rather than scrutiny of China’s rights record.

During the six-day trip, Bachelet will travel to Xinjiang, where the high commissioner’s office said last year it believed predominantly Muslim Uyghurs had been illegally detained, abused and forced to work.

“The purpose of his visit is really focused on a dialogue with the Chinese authorities on a range of national, regional and global human rights issues,” Bachelet’s office said last week.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends an event at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 3, 2021. PHOTO: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uyghurs.

The May 23-28 trip took a long time to prepare after Bachelet said in 2018 that she wanted unfettered access to Xinjiang. China said the visit should not be based on the presumption of guilt. It is unclear how much Bachelet access will be granted.

Rights groups fear that if Bachelet does not press China hard enough, his post-trip report will not paint the full picture and could be used by Beijing to justify its actions in Xinjiang.

In a letter, the World Uyghur Congress urged Bachelet to ensure that his team can move freely, access all detention centers and have unsupervised contact with Uyghurs.

“We fear the trip will do more harm than good. China could use it for propaganda purposes,” congressional spokesman Zumretay Arkin told Reuters.

International scrutiny of the government’s actions in Xinjiang intensified in 2018 after the United Nations said one million Uyghurs were being held in “massive internment camps” set up for political indoctrination.

China initially denied the existence of camps, then later admitted that it had set up “vocational training centers” with dormitories where people can “voluntarily” register to learn the law, Chinese language and professional skills.

The ruling atheist Communist Party has said such centers are needed to curb the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism and religious radicalism in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia on China’s northwest border.

Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir said that in 2019 all trainees had “graduated”.

The United States has sanctioned Chinese officials accused of rights abuses in Xinjiang in 2020 and 2021 and imposed bans on goods produced in Xinjiang over forced labor concerns.

Beijing has denied Western allegations of forced labor, genocide and human rights abuses and has repeatedly warned other countries not to interfere in its internal affairs.


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