It has been repeatedly delayed by the high commissioner for human rights, reinforcing the perception that U.N. leadership is hesitant to confront China.
GENEVA — Michelle Bachelet (UN top human rights official), has indicated that she may not release a long-awaited UN report on allegations of abuses in China’s western region of Xinjiang, as she promised. Human rights groups have already criticized her for stalling the release of the report, which Beijing has blocked.
Human rights groups turned to the United Nations for an independent assessment to help hold Beijing responsible and provide relief to victims’ families four years after activists, academics, and U.N. specialists first raised the alarm about reports that China had arbitrarily held more than a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Ms. Bachelet was the U.N. high-commissioner for human rights and stated at a Thursday news conference that she was “trying very difficult” to meet the August deadline. She had set it herself in June after returning from a May official visit to China.
According to her, she said that a draft of the report was submitted to China’s government. This is a standard procedure for her office. They had received “substantial information” from China, which had to be reviewed before publication.
Ms. Bachelet stated that the report her office had written would examine in detail the reports of violations of human rights and that her office would only take into account statements of fact in China’s response.
Activists are still frustrated by the possible delay of the report and feel that the U.N. human right office has failed to fulfill its mission of protecting the rights of victims of abuse.
“This is exactly the press conference China wanted. This is a response that will only embolden Chinese authorities, and other autocrats all over the world,” Sophie Richardson (China director of Human Rights Watch), said. This is a worrying sign about the U.N.’s ability to challenge powerful countries.
Since Ms. Bachelet first announced plans to publish the findings of its investigation into China’s crackdown on Xinjiang, it has been ten months. Ms. Bachelet repeatedly delayed the release of the report without giving any explanation, confusing diplomats, rights advocates, and even some members of her staff.
Her spokesperson announced in December that she would publish the report within weeks. However, it did not appear. This reinforces perceptions of a United Nations leadership unwilling to confront China.
The U.N. is in a severe budget crunch and the Security Council is often paralyzed from division. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has avoided criticism of China. China is the second-biggest U.N. troop contributor and an important partner in his efforts for the U.N. Social Development Goals.
Ms. Bachelet’s comments on Xinjiang have been limited to mild concerns over abuse allegations. She justified the delay in publishing the report on Thursday by saying that she wanted to prioritise her visit to China, which was the first U.N. rights chief to make it in 17 years.
She spoke out about her desire for free access to China and Xinjiang, which would allow independent evaluation of allegations of abuse. She eventually agreed to a state-run visit and used China’s terminology for describing Xinjiang internment camps as vocational and educational training centers.
Former detainees from Xinjiang described physical abuse, mistreatment, and hours of instruction in official Communist Party ideology.
In her last news conference, Ms. Bachelet spoke about the pressure she faced while preparing the report. She mentioned receiving “huge amounts” of letters each day over the past year. Ms. Bachelet stated that she received a 40-page letter from China urging her to not publish the report.
The Chinese text of the letter circulated in Geneva among diplomatic missions in recent weeks, warning that its release would “intensify politization and bloc confrontation in relation to human rights”, undermine the credibility and damage the office’s relations with member countries.
Ms. Bachelet admitted on Thursday that she was subject to intense pressure from both those who wanted the report out and those who wanted it to be buried. This was not the case.
She stated that she was under immense pressure to publish or not to publish but would not publish or withhold publication because of such pressure.
China denies the allegations of atrocities committed in Xinjiang are “lies”. Beijing’s response to the U.N. investigation reflects Beijing’s concern about defending its Xinjiang policies from criticism from abroad and its determination not to allow governments to take action in the Human Rights Council.
Rosemary Foot, a senior research associate in politics and international relations at Oxford University, stated that China views the United Nations as a body which can legitimize their stances on global politics.