(CNSNews.com) – For months, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet has delayed releasing a report by her office on the human rights situation in Xinjiang, and with just six weeks of her term remaining, it was reported Tuesday that the Chinese government is applying pressure on her to bury it altogether.
Bachelet has already come under fire for what critics see as a reluctance to confront the Chinese Communist Party over its security policies in China’s far-western region, which the U.S. government and others say amount to genocide against minority Muslim Uyghurs.
Now Reuters reports that China has been circulating a letter to diplomatic missions in Geneva – where the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is based – seeking their backing for its request that Bachelet not release the report.
The letter reportedly states that if the Xinjiang document is made public, it “will intensify politicization and bloc confrontation in the area of human rights, undermine the credibility of the OHCHR, and harm the cooperation between OHCHR and member states.”
“We strongly urge Madame High Commissioner not to publish such an assessment,” it says.
The U.S. government and researchers say China has incarcerated more than a million people in internment camps in Xinjiang, and that Uyghurs and others are subjected to forced labor, forced sterilization, religious freedom restrictions and forced separation of parents and children.
Beijing denies the claimed abuses, and says its “vocational and education training centers” (VETCs) in Xinjiang are part of a program designed to counter Islamic radicalism.
Shortly after taking office in 2018, Bachelet announced that she hoped to visit Xinjiang, to look into “deeply disturbing allegations of large-scale arbitrary detentions.”
Attempts to arrange a visit dragged on for more than three years, and in the meantime the OHCHR launched an “assessment” of the available information on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. Bachelet announced last September that the report was being finalized for public release, but ten months later it has yet to see the light of day.
In May, Bachelet was finally able to conduct a six-day trip to China, but the long-delayed and far from unrestricted visit left Uyghurs and other human rights activists frustrated when she failed to call out the mass-scale rights abuses in Xinjiang.
In her end-of-visit summation, moreover, Bachelet had used China’s terminology, saying she had raised with Chinese officials allegations of ill treatment but had been unable to assess “the full scale of the VETCs.”
“During my visit, the government assured me that the VETC system has been dismantled,” she added.
With calls for her resignation mounting, Bachelet days later announced she would not stand for a second term when her current one ends on August 31. (She said the decision, taken for “personal reasons,” had been made before she traveled to China.)
After her announcement, Bachelet reiterated that she intended to see the OHCHR report on Xinjiang released before she leaves. She also confirmed that the Chinese government would have the opportunity beforehand to comment on the draft and provide input.
China’s reported quest for other countries’ support for its request that Bachelet not release the document is in keeping with its practice in recent year of garnering support from other governments for joint statements backing its policies in Xinjiang.
At both the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, statements supported by dozens of member-states have been periodically read out, echoing Beijing’s narrative on Xinjiang and depicting the criticism as a politically-motivated attack by the West.
Most recently, at a HRC session in mid-June, Cuba delivered a statement on behalf of 69 countries, objecting to “politicization of human rights and double standards, or interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights.”
That statement was countered by another, delivered on behalf of 47 democracies, citing “numerous extensively researched and credible reports” on the mass incarceration and rights violations taking place in Xinjiang.
The statement ended with a call for the “prompt release” of the long-awaited OHCHR report on Xinjiang.
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