Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has come under fire for her recent trip to China, with critics accusing her of passing up an opportunity to condemn Beijing’s forced incarceration of nearly two million Uyghurs in internment camps in the country’s Xinjiang province.
More than 230 rights organisations have published an unified statement asking for High Commissioner Bachelet to quit ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 50th session. They accuse her of attempting to whitewash Beijing’s mistreatment of Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other ethnic minorities.
They claim Bachelet allowed her visit to be used for propaganda purposes by Beijing. They claim she blew an unique chance to hold the administration responsible for human rights violations.
Bachelet has yet to reply to recent criticism of her visit. However, towards the conclusion of her journey to China last month, she said that her travel was designed to address human rights with top authorities and “pave the way” for future discussions.
She also defended herself against accusations of being too soft on China, saying she had talked “frankly” to Chinese authorities about the crackdown in Xinjiang under the guise of battling terrorism.
The drama surrounding the High Commissioner has diverted attention away from other significant problems that will be debated during the Council’s four-week session. Federico Villegas, Council President, said Bachelet’s recent visit to China has nothing to do with the Council’s work.
“That visit was not mandated by the Council, and it is her prerogative to speak about it… Of course, the human rights situation in China has been raised by different formats through joint statements and NGO’s… It is possible that during her oral outlook, she mentions and shares details of her visit,” he said.
Activists want Bachelet to disclose her long-awaited report on China’s human rights violations. Villegas, on the other hand, points out that this is an independent report, and it is up to the High Commissioner’s Office, not the Council, to release it.
The Council’s agenda is jam-packed with 90 reports on human rights conditions across the globe, as well as the conclusions of numerous Commissions of Inquiry, including Ethiopia, Syria, and the first inquiry into the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
According to Villegas, there will be a specific emphasis on the conflict in Ukraine.
“We will address Ukraine several times from different perspectives, including reports of the High Commissioner on Mariupol… Also, on fifth of July, the Council will receive the secretary-general’s periodic report on Crimea and the city of Sevastopol,” he said.
Human rights advocates have petitioned the UN Human Rights Council to create a special rapporteur to probe human rights issues in Russia. They argue that exposing the Russian government’s atrocities against its own people is the most effective way to reduce atrocities in Ukraine.