UN human rights chief concludes Chinese trip with cautious criticism on human rights abuse


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping via video link, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China May 25, 2022. [Reuters]


United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet begins has concluded her long-awaited trip to China with cautious criticism over reports on human rights abuse in the Xinjiang region.

Bachelet on Saturday said contrary to what had been reported, her trip to the region was not an investigation.

She said she was however unable to determine the scale of a Xinjiang reeducation and incarceration program directed at ethnic Uyghurs, saying high-profile official visits were not conducive to “discreet work of an investigative nature.”

Her remarks came after Western countries piled pressure on Chinese authorities over reports of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Top German and British diplomats have called for an investigation into the fresh reports saying human rights are a fundamental part of the international order.

The calls last week came even as Bachelet began her trip to the region.

In a virtual meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said there were “shocking reports and new evidence of very serious human rights violations in Xinjiang” and called for a transparent investigation.

She said, “Human rights are a fundamental part of the international order and Germany is committed to protecting them worldwide.”

The US had also expressed concern over Chinese authority’s "efforts to restrict and manipulate" the UN human rights chief's visit to the Xinjiang region.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States remained concerned about 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."

Washington had warned before Ms Bachelet made her long-planned visit to China that authorities would not grant her the necessary access to get a full assessment of the human rights situation.

Mr Blinken reiterated that stance, saying he was "troubled by reports that residents of Xinjiang were warned not to complain or speak openly about conditions in the region, [and] that no insight was provided into the whereabouts of hundreds of missing Uyghurs and conditions for over a million individuals in detention.

But Beijing has repeatedly denied the accusations of committing cultural genocide against Muslim Uyghur residents in Xinjiang, where up to an estimated 2 million residents have been incarcerated, according to rights researchers.

Bachelet said she encouraged Beijing to review its “counterterrorism” policies to ensure that they complied with international human rights standards and that they were not applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory way. “I have heard you,” she said, regarding those who made appeals to her about specific human rights cases.

Bachelet is the first UN human rights chief to visit China since 2005, and her trip was the result of years of negotiation. Activists were widely disappointed that she did not criticize China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang more forcefully or manage to ferret out new details about the situation on the ground.

She started her China trip, the first by a UN Human Rights High Commissioner in 17 years, on Monday in the southern city of Guangzhou before heading to Xinjiang.

The UN human rights chief's access was limited as China arranged for her to travel in a "closed loop" — isolating people within a virtual bubble to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — with no foreign press.