By Thalif Deen
The upcoming visit to China by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has come under critical US scrutiny.
Asked about the proposed visit, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on May 20: “We are deeply concerned about the upcoming visit. Our understanding of the planned restrictions that she will be subjected to during the visit—based on that, we have no expectation that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) will grant the necessary access required to conduct a complete, unmanipulated assessment of the human rights environment in Xinjiang”.
“The high commissioner, we believe, must act, and be allowed to act, independently; and the high commissioner must report objectively and factually on the human rights situation,” he added.
A credible visit to the region would feature unhindered, transparent, and unsupervised access to affected communities of the high commissioner’s choosing, as well as timely, candid, and complete reporting of the visit’s full findings, he added.
“We have repeatedly made our concerns known to the PRC and to the high commissioner, and for months we and others in the international community have called upon the high commissioner to release a report drafted by her staff detailing the situation in Xinjiang”.
Despite frequent assurances by her office that the report would be released in short order, he pointed out, “it remains unavailable to us, and we call on the high commissioner to release the report without delay and not to wait for the visit to do so”.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) said “the Chinese government is committing human rights violations on a scope and scale unimaginable since the last time a high commissioner visited in 2005, partly because there is no fear of accountability”.
“The high commissioner needs to work to end, not enable, that perception,” she declared.
Since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2013, HRW charged, Chinese delegations at the United Nations have tried to rewrite norms and manipulate existing procedures to minimize scrutiny of the Chinese government’s conduct and to weaken accountability mechanisms.
The government has sought to remove human rights mandates from UN peacekeeping operations and blocked action to advance accountability for rights violations, including in crises such as Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Ukraine.
“China systematically misuses its participation in UN committees to deny accreditation to organizations critical of the Chinese government’s rights abuses,” HRW said.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch assessed Chinese government efforts to thwart UN scrutiny of human rights globally, documenting threats to virtually all aspects of those institutions.
While about two dozen UN agencies have a presence in China, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is not among them.
In a statement released May 20, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Bachelet will begin a six-day official mission to China, at the invitation of the Government. This is the first country visit by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to China since 2005.
During her visit, the High Commissioner is due to meet with a number of high-level officials at the national and local levels. The High Commissioner will also meet with civil society organisations, business representatives, and academics, and deliver a lecture to students at Guangzhou University. Bachelet will visit Guangzhou, Kashgar and Urumqi.
At the end of her mission, Bachelet is expected to issue a statement and is scheduled to hold a press conference on 28 May 2022. Details, including timing and format, will follow in a media advisory to be issued locally.
An advance team of five has been in the country since April 25 to prepare for the High Commissioner’s visit. The team initially spent time in Guangzhou, where they conducted virtual meetings while in quarantine in line with COVID-19 travel requirements. Following quarantine, the team undertook meetings and visits in Guangzhou before travelling to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, according to the statement.
Elaborating further, State Department spokesman Price said the high commissioner’s continued silence in the face of indisputable evidence of atrocities in Xinjiang and other human rights violations and abuses throughout the PRC, it is deeply concerning, particularly as she is and should be the leading UN voice on human rights.
The United States remains gravely concerned by the genocide and crimes against humanity that PRC authorities are perpetrating against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, he added.
“And we call on the PRC to immediately cease committing these atrocities, release those unjustly detained, and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to the region. We’ll continue to work closely with our like-minded partners and the international community to urge an end to these atrocities and provide justice to the many victims.”