UN Human Rights Coordinator was not allowed to speak with detained Uyghurs or their families while visiting Xinjiang | Abroad

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a session of the 50th Human Rights Council in Geneva that there are restrictions on her visit to the region in China. China is accused of crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Bachelet says she was not allowed to speak to detained Uyghurs or their families during her controversial visit to Xinjiang.

Bachelet and a team from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spent six days in Guangdong and Xinjiang on a visit that activists and some Western governments have described as a propaganda coup for the Chinese government. In a statement on Wednesday, Bachelet said she was able to meet with members of civil society organizations without government oversight, but that in Xinjiang she was “accompanied by government officials throughout the visit.”

At a press conference in Guangdong on the last day of her tour, Bachelet was asked directly by The Guardian if she could talk “unsupervised” with Uyghurs and other citizens and have free and open discussions about their experiences. Bachelet said at the time that because of the Covid bubble she wasn’t able to meet everyone “but with the people we were able to talk to, it was in an unsupervised way.”

On Wednesday, she reiterated the “restrictions” on the visit. “As with any high-profile visit, there were limitations, especially given the Covid restrictions in place,” she said.

I visited Kashgar Prison and the formerly called Vocational Education and Training Center (VETC), where I spoke with the authorities. During the visit, I was unable to speak to the currently detained Uyghurs or their families. However, in anticipation, I met some former detainees who are now outside the country and with families who had lost contact with their loved ones prior to my visit.”

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After her visit, Bachelet was criticized by human rights groups, Western governments, and Uyghur activists for failing to strongly condemn the Chinese government’s abuses in Xinjiang. And because in her press conference she used terms preferred by the government, including “Vocational Education and Training Centre”. VETCs is the name the government uses for a network of facilities that hold an estimated one million Uyghurs and allegedly violate human rights.

Activists, including Uyghur human rights lawyer Rehan Asat, told media that authorities prevented their families in Xinjiang from leaving their homes during Bachelet’s visit.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is under pressure to release a long-awaited report on the human rights situation in China, due to be submitted by the end of 2021. In a separate letter on Wednesday, Bachelet said her office is working to update their assessment of the situation in Xinjiang. Prior to publication, Bachelet’s assessment will be shared with the Chinese government for comment.

Denton Watson

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