UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has come under fire for her recent trip to China, with critics accusing her of missing an opportunity to condemn Beijing’s forced incarceration of nearly two million Uighurs in internment camps in Xinjiang province.
Ahead of the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council, more than 230 rights groups issued a joint statement calling for the resignation of High Commissioner Bachelet. They accuse him of whitewashing Beijing’s crackdown on Uyghurs, Tibetans and other ethnic minorities.
They say Bachelet allowed his visit to turn into a propaganda victory for Beijing. They say she squandered a rare opportunity to hold the government accountable for its human rights atrocities.
Bachelet did not respond to recent criticism of the visit. However, at the end of her visit to China last month, she said her trip was an opportunity to discuss human rights with senior officials and “pave the way” for further talks.
She also defended herself against criticism that she was being too soft on China by saying she spoke “frankly” to Chinese leaders about the crackdown in Xinjiang under the guise of fighting terrorism.
The controversy surrounding the High Commissioner has diverted attention from other serious issues to be considered during the Council’s four-week session. Council President Federico Villegas said Bachelet’s recent visit to China had nothing to do with the Council’s work.
“This visit was not mandated by the Council, and it is its prerogative to talk about it… Of course, the human rights situation in China has been mentioned in different forms through joint statements and NGOs … It is possible that during her oral address she will mention and share details of her visit,” he said.
Activists are calling on Bachelet to publish his long-awaited report on human rights abuses in China. However, Villegas notes that this is an independent report and that it is up to the High Commission, not the Council, to publish it.
The action-packed agenda before the Council includes 90 reports on the human rights situation around the world, the findings of several commissions of inquiry, including in Ethiopia, Syria and the first investigation in the territory occupied Palestinian.
Villegas says there will be a special focus on the war in Ukraine.
“We will approach Ukraine several times from different angles, including the reports of the High Commissioner on Mariupol… In addition, on July 5, the Council will receive the periodic report of the Secretary-General on Crimea and the city of Sevastopol “, did he declare.
Human rights activists are calling on the Council to appoint a special rapporteur to investigate human rights abuses in Russia. They say exposing abuses committed by the Russian government against its own people is the best way to reduce atrocities in Ukraine.