China is exerting pressure on outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to bury a long-awaited report on rights violations in its Xinjiang province, according to Reuters news agency.This content was published on July 20, 2022 – 15:24July 20, 2022 – 15:24Julia CrawfordOther languages: 2 (EN original)
Asked for comment, spokesman Jeremy Laurence from the UN human rights office in Geneva referred SWI swissinfo.ch to Bachelet’s promise last month to release the report before she steps down at the end of August. “The report is being finalised and final steps are being undertaken prior to public release,” he said. These steps include “sharing with the concerned Member State for its comments before publishing as per standard practice”. He declined to say whether or not Bachelet had received a letter from China.
Beijing has circulated a letter to Bachelet among diplomatic missions in Geneva, urging her not to publish the report, Reuters reported on TuesdayExternal link. The agency says it has seen the letter, confirmed by diplomats from three countries who received it.
China’s letter expresses “grave concern” about the Xinjiang report and aims to halt its release, according to these diplomats and a rights expert who did not wish to be named. They told Reuters that China began circulating it among diplomatic missions in Geneva from late June, asking countries to sign it to show their support.
“The assessment (on Xinjiang), if published, will intensify politicisation and bloc confrontation in the area of human rights, undermine the credibility of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), and harm the cooperation between OHCHR and member states,” says the letter as quoted by Reuters.
This could be a reference to an apparent agreement with Bachelet during her recent controversial visit to China in May. She said at the end of that trip that the Chinese government had agreed to set up a working group to “facilitate substantive exchanges and cooperation between my office and the government through meetings in Beijing and in Geneva, as well as virtual meetings”. This was especially important, she added, because her office does not have a country presence in China.
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Under fire from NGOs
Bachelet has come in for strong criticism from NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as some States for not publishing the report before – perhaps because of her controversial visit to China which they also slammed for being too soft on Beijing. She said in June she was stepping down for family reasons.
Credible reports accuse Beijing of widespread and systematic abuses against its Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang, including forced labour in detention camps. China denies the accusations and says the camps are for vocational training.
So can Bachelet redeem herself on China before she goes?
“We’ll have to see what the report says and whether the input of the Chinese government, which she allowed again at the end, will tone down what we understood to be quite a strong report,” Sherine Tadros, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Advocacy and head of its UN office in New York, told SWI in a recent interview. “Because the evidence on the ground, as documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many others, is very strong and persuasive.”