U.N. Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet is under fire over her recent trip to China, with critics accusing her of missing an opportunity to condemn Beijing’s forced incarceration of nearly two million Uyghurs in internment camps in the country’s Xinjiang province.
Ahead of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 50th session, more than 230 rights groups have issued a joint statement calling for High Commissioner Bachelet to resign. They accuse her of whitewashing Beijing’s repression against Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other ethnic minorities.
They say Bachelet allowed her visit to be turned into a propaganda win for Beijing. They say she squandered a rare opportunity to hold the government accountable for its human rights atrocities.
Bachelet has not responded to the recent criticism of the visit. However, at the end of her visit to China last month she said her trip was intended as an opportunity to discuss human rights with senior officials and “pave the way” for continued talks.
She also defended herself from criticism that she was too soft on China by saying she had spoken “frankly” to Chinese leaders about the crackdown in Xinjiang on the pretext of fighting terrorism.
The controversy swirling around the High Commissioner has deflected attention from other serious issues to be considered during the Council’s four-week session. Council President, Federico Villegas, says Bachelet’s recent visit to China has nothing to do with the work of the Council.
“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 are demanding Bachelet release her long-awaited report on China’s human rights abuses. However, Villegas notes this is an independent report, and it is up to the High Commissioner’s Office, not the Council, to issue it.
The action-packed agenda before the Council includes 90 reports on human rights situations around the world, the findings of several Commissions of Inquiry including Ethiopia, Syria and the first inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Villegas says there will be a special focus on the war 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 activists are calling on the Council to appoint a special rapporteur to investigate human rights violations within Russia. They say exposing the abuses committed by the Russian government against its own people is the best way to curtail atrocities in Ukraine.