A group of 40 politicians from 18 countries have told the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that she risks lasting damage to the credibility of her office if she visits China’s Xinjiang region the following day. next week.
Michelle Bachelet is due to visit Kashgar and Ürümqi in Xinjiang on her trip, which begins Monday. Human rights organizations say China has forced an estimated 1 million or more people into internment camps and prisons in the region. The United States and a number of other Western countries have branded China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority there as genocidal, a charge Beijing calls the “lie of the century”.
In a statement seen by the Guardian before it was published, politicians from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (Ipac) accused Beijing of staging a “Potemkin-style tour”. In particular, they said they feared the government would use the cover of coronavirus restrictions to prevent the visit from being as free as it should be.
The group includes six politicians under Chinese government sanctions, including Reinhard Bütikofer, the German Green MEP and chairman of the Chinese delegation to the European Parliament; Helena Kennedy, the Labor peer; and Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative Party.
The politicians pointed to the UN’s terms of reference for such visits, which specify that the commissioner should enjoy freedom of movement, conversations with people active in civil society and confidential and unsupervised access to witnesses, all of whom could be undermined by China’s repression in the region and its Covid-19 restrictions.
As such, they said, it was difficult to envision a scenario in which a meaningful visit could be made.
Bachelet demanded unhindered access to what will be the first visit to China by a human rights chief since 2005. This follows intense negotiations with the Chinese government that lasted months over the terms of its access.
Rights groups have warned that the terms of the visit have not been disclosed and have expressed concern that Chinese authorities, who have always said they are only interested in a “friendly visit “, could manipulate the trip.
Alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region include forced labor, forced sterilization and arbitrary detention of at least one million Uyghur Muslims. Beijing has vehemently denied all of the allegations and blamed “anti-China forces” for stoking the controversy.
Ipac said, “The scale and severity of the persecution of Uyghurs and other minorities is exceptionally well documented. Indeed, the high commissioner herself has prepared a report on the situation which remains unpublished, despite assurances in December 2021 that it would be published “in a matter of weeks”. So the stakes are very high.
“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. Covid restrictions should not be rolled out as reason to excuse PRC [People’s Republic of China] for not allowing a serious investigation.
Activists say China has violated human rights ‘on an unimaginable scale and scale’ since then-Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbor visited more ten years old.
“[This is] partly because there is no fear of accountability,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The High Commissioner must work to end, not allow, this perception.”
According to Bachelet’s official program, she will meet with civil society organizations, business representatives and academics in China. She will also give a lecture to the students of the University of Guangzhou.
An advance team was sent to China late last month and carried out a lengthy quarantine in the country, which is in the midst of another coronavirus outbreak. Bachelet will not need to quarantine upon arrival. Her office said she would not be traveling to Beijing due to Covid-19 restrictions. At the end of her mission, a statement will be released and she is due to hold a press conference on May 28. No international journalist will be allowed to travel with her.
Bachelet’s journey will be followed closely by Beijing as well as by the international community. Last week, in a report to Congress, the US State Department laid out plans to step up pressure on China to end what it called “horrific abuses” against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.