Bachelet avoids delving into the repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang at the end of her visit to China | International
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The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has concluded her controversial six-day trip to China by moderating her statements on the repression against the Uyghur minority, although she has assured that she has urged the Xi Jinping government to “review” its anti-terrorism policy to ensure that it complies with international human rights standards. Since before its start, Bachelet’s visit has been widely criticized by Western governments and NGOs, who fear that Beijing will use the tour as a propaganda tool.
The former Chilean president – in the pools to succeed Antonio Guterres and become the first female secretary of the UN – visited Canton, in southern China, and the Xinjiang region, in the northwest, this week. On the latter, Bachelet’s office has criticized in the past the abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority, a community of twelve million people, and the lack of respect for human rights. The abuses by China have been documented again this week in a leak published by fourteen international media, including EL PAÍS: around one million people of the Uyghur ethnic group and other Muslim minorities have been subjected to persecution, mistreatment and internment in what Western governments and NGOs see as re-education camps and what China describes as mere vocational training centres.
Limited by the bubble imposed by Beijing on the grounds of the fight against covid, Bachelet has visited the Kashgar city prison and an old center converted into a school in Xinjiang. She also met with local government leaders and civil society representatives. “This visit was not an investigation; the official visits of the high commissioners are by nature very prominent and simply do not allow the kind of detailed, methodical and discreet work of an investigation”, said the high commissioner in a press conference by videoconference before returning to Geneva . The value of her trip, she has pointed out, has been in the possibility of addressing the situation of human rights in Xinjiang and the rest of China with the highest authorities of the country; The senior official held a video conference with Xi on Wednesday.
The former head of state, herself subjected to torture during the Pinochet regime in Chile, acknowledged that the trip has not allowed her to know the dimensions of the re-education camp program ―which she referred to at all times as VETC, the acronym in English for “vocational education and training centers”, the Chinese denomination―. But she has raised problems with the government, says Bachelet, such as the absence of judicial control of the program, allegations of the use of force, mistreatment and complaints of restrictions on religious freedom, among other concerns.
The local authorities have assured him, according to the high commissioner, that this program has ended. China maintains that the inmates in those camps “graduated” in 2019 and the centers have been converted into schools, community centers and other types of facilities. But various NGOs and think tanks they consider that part of them continue to function as places of reeducation.
“I have raised questions and concerns about the application of anti-terrorist and de-radicalization measures,” Bachelet said, “particularly the impact on the rights of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.” China maintains that its program of re-education centers and other coercive practices against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, including an extensive surveillance plan, is necessary to combat terrorism and extremism, after a series of attacks in the first half of the last decade. .
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During her press conference, the senior official considered “deeply worrying” the arrests of activists, legislators and journalists in Hong Kong under the National Security Law, and stressed the importance of allowing freedom of religion and protecting the learning of the indigenous language in Tibet. At the same time, Bachelet highlighted the importance of China – whose government is increasingly vocal in defending its interests in multilateral institutions, and which is trying to expand its influence in UN agencies – as a “key contributor in multilateral and regional forums. And she praised Beijing’s achievements in fighting poverty, its legislation to protect women’s rights and its support for UN goals on sustainable development.
Bachelet’s press conference had caused great expectation: nearly 200 international journalists connected to try to ask the high commissioner about her visit. But in his 45-minute appearance, the most profuse response was to a question from a Chinese state media outlet about racism in the United States and the massacre at a school in the Texas town of Uvalde. Meanwhile, specific questions about Xinjiang received far less detailed answers from Bachelet.
Bachelet’s visit, whose mandate will end in September, is the first by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to China since Louise Arbor’s in 2004. In fact, the trip has been in preparation for three years: the High Commissioner In 2018, he expressed for the first time his desire to travel to Xinjiang in the face of the “worrying” complaints that were coming in about the re-education camps; Shortly after, in 2019, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi extended a first invitation for a “friendly” visit.
For their part, nearly 200 NGOs had requested the cancellation of the trip, considering that it did not offer the necessary conditions to independently determine the true situation of the abuses against the Uyghurs. The State Department spokesman in Washington, Ned Price, had considered the tour “a mistake.” Organizations of Uyghurs in exile have also expressed their disappointment with the visit. “As expected, the High Commissioner has missed a historic opportunity to investigate the Uyghur genocide and bring justice to the Uyghur people,” said World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa.
However, other experts had indicated that, despite the limitations, the visit offered value. “It is imperative that the high commissioner be seen to engage with the Chinese government,” Philip Alston, former UN special rapporteur on poverty and human rights, told reporters on Friday. “The mere fact that you had an exchange [de opiniones] directly with President Xi Jinping is an achievement,” added Alston.
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