UN High Commissioner Faces Whitewashing Accusations After Mission To China

A torrent of criticism fell on the current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, for the official visit conducted between 23-28 May 2022 in China. The UN’s human rights chief has been accused of whitewashing and using Beijing’s propaganda language in her summative statement, having conducted the mission to the Xinjiang region, where approximately one million people have been illegitimately confined in detention and re-education camps.

The first trip of the UN human rights chief to China since 2005 comprised meetings with the representatives of multifarious civil society organizations and the high-ranking officials, including the president of China, Xi Jinping. Due to the arrangement of a visit to the former Vocational Education and Training Centre (VETC) and prison in Kashgar, the output, although had raised high expectations, fell short of addressing the international crimes, according to Amnesty International.

The High Commissioner’s statement, diplomatically, encouraged to “review all of the counter-terrorism and deradicalisation policies to ensure they fully comply with international human rights standards.” In the aftermath of this announcement, the international community of scholars of Xinjiang and the Uyghur regions expressed their flurry in form of an open letter. They unanimously condemned the Bachelet’s pronouncements, stating that the priorly proven facts about the genocidal nature of the atrocities cannot be euphemistically described as a counter-terrorist, deradicalizing policy.

“Truly a disaster,” said Adrian Zenz, one of the most prominent advocates for Uyghurs’ rights, being asked to assess Bachelet’s visit to the major cities of Xinjiang and the subsequent statement. The U.S.-based researcher, having defined China’s policy as one of the largest human rights violations of the 21st century, claimed that “the Uyghurs are feeling profoundly betrayed” by the principal actor in the protection of fundamental freedoms.

As the nature of negotiation is laid down in juxtaposition of different standpoints and striving for the consensus, its essence and power could have been attenuated. The tenor of the OHCHR’s visit was explicitly subservient to the Chinese authorities, hence, in the opinion of Adrian Zenz, accepting the invitation was a mistake in the first place. He claims that high officials of international organizations are not capable of providing in-depth analysis and that the echo of the inconsistent position of the OHCHR provided the Chinese government with a wide scope of manoeuvre to misinform and manipulate Bachelet’s words.

In May 2022, just after the commencement of the OHCHR’s mission, a new cache of files and photos of the internment camps was leaked, exposing the abuses and the inhumane practices of detainees’ terrorization. The images, documents and spreadsheets exemplify the brutality of the methods undertaken, revealing the existence of shoot-to-kill orders and President Xi Jinping’s willingness to expand the number of camps.

Since 2017, multiple human rights organizations have been alarming the international community due to the exponential number of detainees and disappearances among ethnic minorities. An estimated number of one million internees have been kept in more than one thousand extrajudicial internment facilities, leading to the rising accusations concerning the Commission of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity against Muslim minorities.

During the 50th Human Rights Council session on global human rights developments, Michelle Bachelet announced that she will not seek a second term in office as the UN High Commissioner. In consequence, the scholars expressed their concerns about the long-delayed publication of her report on human rights violations in China, hoping that the responsibility for its publication will not be passed to her successor.

The exigency of action is indubitable and the lack of thereof may imperil more human beings to be the victims of China’s campaign. Therefore, the finalization of the four-year-awaited report shall constitute a priority for Michelle Bachelet’s ending term, says Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch.