August 15, 2022

Exclusive: China seeks to block UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from releasing Xinjiang report - document

Exclusive: China seeks to block UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from releasing Xinjiang report – document

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a press conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibos

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  • A report on human rights in Xinjiang promised months ago
  • Chinese letter expresses ‘grave concern’ over report
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights will leave his post next month

GENEVA (Reuters) – China has asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to bury a long-awaited report on human rights abuses in Xinjiang, according to a Chinese letter seen by Reuters and confirmed by diplomats from three countries that received the report.

UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet faced heavy criticism from civil society for being lenient with China during her May visit, and has since said she would refrain from seeking a second term for personal reasons. Read more

But before leaving at the end of August, she vowed to publish a report in China’s western Xinjiang region. Rights groups accuse Beijing of committing abuses against Xinjiang’s Uyghur population, including the mass use of forced labor in concentration camps. China has strongly denied the allegations.

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Four sources – the three diplomats and a human rights expert who spoke on condition of anonymity – said the letter prepared by China expressed “grave concern” about the Xinjiang report and aimed to halt its release. They said China has started distributing them among diplomatic missions in Geneva since late June and asked countries to sign them to show their support.

“The assessment (on Xinjiang), if published, will intensify politicization and collective confrontation in the field of human rights, undermine the credibility of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and damage cooperation between the Office of the High Commissioner and member states,” the letter said, referring to Bachelet’s office.

We strongly urge the Madame High Commissioner not to publish such an assessment.”

Liu Yuen, a spokesman for the Chinese diplomatic mission in Geneva, did not say whether the letter had been sent or answered questions about its contents.

Recently, Liu said, nearly 100 countries expressed their support for China on Xinjiang-related issues and “refused to interfere in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights.”

Liu added that this support was expressed through public statements at the last session of the UN Human Rights Council, which ended on July 8, and through the “joint letter,” using a term referring to China and the other signatories.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters that Bachelet would have experienced “a real Xinjiang with a safe and stable society” when she visited the region during her May trip to China.

The spokesman said that some countries’ attempts to “smear China” by using the Xinjiang issue will not succeed.

It was not clear if Bachelet had received the letter, and a commission spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

He added that the Xinjiang report is being finalized before it is released to the public, saying this includes the usual practice of sharing a copy with China for its comments.

The report is set to deal with China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority. A team of human rights experts began collecting his evidence more than three years ago, but his release was delayed for several months for unclear reasons.

Reuters was unable to determine how many signatures the letter had received. One of the four sources, a Geneva-based diplomat, responded positively to the letter with his country’s support.

Another version of the letter seen by Reuters was more critical of Bachelet’s actions, saying the Xinjiang report was done “without mandate and in serious violation of the duties of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” and would undermine her personal credibility.

It was not clear who edited it and why. The diplomat who signed the letter said the softer version was the last.

direct lobby

China, like other countries, sometimes seeks to garner support for its political statements within the Geneva-based Rights Council through diplomatic memos that others are asked to support.

They can sometimes influence the decisions of the 47-member council, whose actions are not legally binding but can allow investigations into suspected violations.

Two diplomats in Geneva said China’s speech was a rare example of evidence of Beijing seeking to pressure Bachelet directly. Sometimes, they say, countries find it difficult to say no to China on human rights issues, given the close economic ties.

The memo comes at a critical juncture for the UN human rights body in the past few weeks from Bachelet’s tenure, with her successor not yet nominated. Bachelet, 70, is due to leave her post on August 31.

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Additional reporting by Yu Lun Tian in Beijing. Written by Emma Farge and Editing by Mark Heinrich

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.