UN rights chief criticized over Uyghur probe won’t seek another term

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced on Monday that she will not seek a second term after a botched envoy to determine the veracity of human rights abuses in China.

Bachelet has been criticized by human rights groups around the world who say she took a weak and non-aggressive approach during her trip to China to investigate the country’s Uyghur detention centers, where reports of forced labor, torture and even forced abortions were reported by escapees. However, even before he arrived, Bachelet tempered expectations and refused to call the visit an “inquiry”.

Bachelet has been hampered by severe restrictions on her autonomy, which the Chinese government says it has put in place due to COVID-19.

Instead, the trip, which took place last month, was organized and guided by the Chinese government. Bachelet did not meet a single Uyghur detainee, nor members of Uyghur families inside the country.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends an event at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 3, 2021.
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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends an event at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 3, 2021.
(REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File photo)

“As my tenure as High Commissioner draws to a close, the landmark fiftieth session of this Council will be the last I report on,” Ms. Bachelet said in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council. .

CHINA IMPOSES SANCTIONS ON US OFFICIALS OVER XINJIANG

Jewher Ilham, daughter of Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist and human rights activist, holds a portrait of her father during the European Parliament Sakharov Prize for Human Rights 2019 award ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg , in eastern France, on December 18, 2019.

Jewher Ilham, daughter of Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist and human rights activist, holds a portrait of her father during the European Parliament Sakharov Prize for Human Rights 2019 award ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg , in eastern France, on December 18, 2019.
(FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images | GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

“Two months ago, even before going to China, I made a decision and I informed my boss, the general secretary (Antonio Guterres). So it has nothing to do with it,” he said. she later told the press.

Bachelet was warned by human rights activists that continuing the trip despite severe access limitations could damage the UN’s credibility in the future.

“If the high commissioner fails to gain the necessary access to a serious investigation, the credibility of the office could suffer lasting damage and the ability of OHCHR to secure future serious investigations may well be compromised,” the statement said. Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) told the Guardian. “Covid restrictions should not be rolled out as a reason to excuse the PRC [People’s Republic of China] for not allowing a serious investigation.”

Ethnic Uyghur protesters take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey, October 1, 2021. REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya

Ethnic Uyghur protesters take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey, October 1, 2021. REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya
(REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya)

The Bachelet Commission is currently working on an updated assessment of human rights in China, which should be published in the coming months. However, given the lack of direct observation and virtually no investigative independence, many wonder how comprehensive it will paint a comprehensive picture of China’s internal abuses.

“There were limitations, especially given the current Covid restrictions. I was accompanied by government officials throughout the visit to Xinjiang,” Bachelet said of her visit to China. “I was unable to speak to the Uyghurs currently detained or their families during the visit.”

URUMQI, CHINA - JULY 07: Chinese policemen push protesting Uyghur women down a street on July 7, 2009 in Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Hundreds of Uyghurs took to the streets to protest after their relatives were arrested by authorities following Sunday's demonstration.  Ethnic riots in the capital of the Muslim region of Xinjiang on Sunday left 156 people dead.  Police, soldiers and firefighters were dispatched to contain the riots and hundreds of people were arrested.  (Photo by Guang Niu/Getty Images)

URUMQI, CHINA – JULY 07: Chinese policemen push protesting Uyghur women down a street on July 7, 2009 in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Hundreds of Uyghurs took to the streets to protest after their relatives were arrested by authorities following Sunday’s demonstration. Ethnic riots in the capital of the Muslim region of Xinjiang on Sunday left 156 people dead. Police, soldiers and firefighters were dispatched to contain the riots and hundreds of people were arrested. (Photo by Guang Niu/Getty Images)

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China has been accused of wrongfully imprisoning up to three million Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, as well as performing forced sterilizations and abortions. Chinese authorities say the camps in the area are “re-education” facilities fighting Islamic extremism.

President Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Law in December, a bipartisan law that prevents the importation of goods made by forced labor in the Xinjiang region.

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