China: Credibility of UN Human Rights Chief’s Visit at Risk

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Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks to the media at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 3, 2021. 
© 2021 Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP, File

(New York) – The planned visit to China by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights should meet minimum standards to be considered credible, Human Rights Watch and 59 other groups said today. The groups urged High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to take several steps to prevent the Chinese government from manipulating the visit, announced for May 2022.

“The Chinese government has given no indication that the UN high commissioner will be allowed to see anything they don’t want her to see,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “She should not fail the victims of crimes against humanity and other grave abuses by enabling the Chinese authorities to manipulate her visit.”

Under the guise of its 2014 “Strike Hard Against Violent Extremism” campaign, the Chinese government has committed widespread and systematic policies of mass detention, torture, cultural persecution, and other offenses against Uyghurs and members of other Turkic groups in Xinjiang (the Uyghur region) that amount to crimes against humanity.

Bachelet first publicly announced that her office sought an unfettered visit to the Uyghur region in September 2018. Since that time, Chinese authorities have stalled, evidently to defer, delay, or deny the UN meaningful access to the region. In September 2021, Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council that her office was “finalising its assessment of the available information on allegations of serious human rights violations in that region with a view to making it public.”

Bachelet’s office has not yet published its report, and in March informed the Human Rights Council of her intention to visit China in May. It is unclear when or whether her office’s report will be published.

The groups urged Bachelet, in addition to releasing her report, to ensure that meetings with rights advocates in China are carried out safely, that her arrangements with the Chinese government are transparent, and that minimum standards for an unfettered visit are met, among other considerations.

Bachelet would be the first UN high commissioner for human rights to visit China since 2005. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is not among the two dozen UN agencies with a presence in Beijing.

“Without an ambitious and robust agenda to advance human rights in China, Bachelet’s visit risks empowering the abusers, not their victims,” Richardson said. “High Commissioner Bachelet should leave a legacy as someone who stood up to Beijing, not someone who let down those who suffer under it.”

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