The United Nations human rights chief said a long overdue report on rights abuses in western China’s Xinjiang region may not be issued by the time she leaves her post on Aug. 31, prompting dismay among Uyghur advocacy groups and a U.S. call to release the document.
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told reporters at a press conference on Thursday in Geneva that her office was trying to complete its report before the end of her four-year term but that input from the Chinese government still had to be reviewed.
Bachelet, who visited Xinjiang in May, did not mention the report while giving prepared remarks at the news conference, but addressed the issue during a question-and-answer session that followed.
“We are working on the report,” she said. “I had fully intended for it to be released before the end of my mandate and will try. But now we have received substantial input from the government that we will need to carefully review as we do every time with any report from any country.”
The report would cover a period in which Chinese authorities arbitrarily detained up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in internment camps in Xinjiang, according to numerous investigative reports by rights groups, researchers, foreign media and think tanks.
The predominantly Muslim groups also have been subjected to torture, forced sterilizations and forced labor, as well as the eradication of their linguistic, cultural and religious traditions, in what the United States and several Western parliaments have called genocide and crimes against humanity.
“As I have said before, the issues are serious,” Bachelet said at the press conference. “In my meetings with high-level national officials and regional authorities in Xinjiang, I raised concerns about human rights violations, including reports of arbitrary detention and ill treatment in institutions, and the report looks in-depth into this and other serious human rights violations concerning the Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.”
Bachelet informed the U.N. Human Rights Council in September 2021 that her office was finalizing its assessment of information on allegations of rights violations. Three months later, a spokesperson said the report would be issued in a matter of weeks.
The U.S. rights chief mentioned during the news conference that her office had reached an agreement with the Chinese government in late March to visit Xinjiang. An advance team from her office traveled to China in late April, and the formal visit took place on May 23-28.
“This is something that I wanted to prioritize as it was important to visit the country and to engage with senior officials on human rights issues to be able to convey directly those allegations to them,” Bachelet told reporters in Geneva.
Rights groups and Uyghur activist organizations heavily criticized the visit, saying Bachelet repeated Chinese talking points during a news conference at the end of her trip and failed to denounce the repression Uyghurs face there as a genocide.
“Following my visit to China, the report continued to be reviewed and finalized because we needed to also look at what we had seen in China and if it was something to be reflected in the report,” Bachelet said.
There was no immediate response from the Chinese government to Bachelet’s comments at the press conference.
China has angrily denied any mistreatment of Uyghurs or other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang.
The U.S. State Department called on Bachelet to release the report without delay and fulfill a pledge that she made both publicly and privately to release it before the end of her mandate.
“For months we and others in the international community have called upon the high commissioner to release a report drafted by her staff detailing the situation in Xinjiang,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email to RFA. “Despite frequent assurances by the high commissioner that the report would be released in short order, it remains unavailable.”
Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, noted that Bachelet addressed urgent global issues and human rights challenges during her prepared remarks to wrap up her mandate, but she said nothing about China’s ongoing genocide of Uyghurs.
“When asked whether she would issue the Uyghur report before her term ends, she simply said she was trying to,” he said.
“It seems to me she wasn’t trying to issue the Uyghur report but trying to appease China by not offending the country that’s committing an active genocide against Uyghurs,” Isa said. “However, if she doesn’t issue the report before she leaves office, she will completely extinguish the credibility of the U.N. Human Rights Council as a global institution to defend human rights in the world.”
Sophie Richardson, China director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, told RFA that it would be important for Bachelet’s replacement to release the report and initiate a formal investigation that could lead to accountability proceedings for Chinese government officials responsible for crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
“That is not just the right thing to do with respect to the situation for Uyghurs and other Turkic communities, it’s also going to be essential to restoring the credibility of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights,” she said.