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Uyghur group not impressed as UN rights chief concludes visit, urging China to review counterterrorism measures

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(TibetanReview.net, May29’22) – UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet has on May 28 defended her May 23-28 trip to Guangzhou in China and Urumqi and Kashgar in Chinese-ruled East Turkestan (Xinjiang) by saying it was not intended as an investigation into China’s human rights policies but a chance to directly discuss human rights issues with China’s leaders. The World Uyghur Congress of exile Uyghurs was, however, not satisfied and expressed serious disappointment with the outcomes of her visit. 

“The visit has turned out to be a propaganda opportunity for China to whitewash its crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uyghur people,” said the group in a statement May 28.

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The Chinese government has been accused of forced sterilization, mass internment and other crimes against humanity targeting of members of the Uyghur ethnic group and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Given the purpose of her visit, Bachelet has said during her online press briefing on May 28 that she was “unable to assess” the full scale of the violations in the Vocational Education and Training Centers (VETCs), the term used by China for the forced labour camps which were stated to hold a million or possibly more Uyghur and other ethnic Muslim minority group members.

She has spoken of having called on Beijing to review all its counterterrorism and anti-radicalisation policies to make sure they complied with international human rights standards. “I have raised questions and concerns about the application of counterterrorism and deradicalization measures under broad application, particularly the impact on the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities,” she has said.

But she has also said she recognised the damage caused by “violent acts of extremism.”

She has spoken of having visited a prison in Kashgar, where she saw prisoners and an internal court of appeal, describing her access as “pretty open, pretty transparent”.

Beijing announced in 2019 that all “trainees” had graduated from “vocational training centres”, but rights groups allege that many detainees were transferred to factories where forced labour was used, or instead moved to Xinjiang’s ballooning network of prisons.

Bachelet has said that while she could not assess the full scale of the “vocational education and training centres”, she told Beijing she was concerned about the lack of independent judicial oversight of the facilities’ operations, allegations of the use of force, and “unduly severe restriction on legitimate religious practices” inside the centres.

China, however, does not have an independent judiciary and the country’s Supreme Court regularly emphasizes its subservience to the party policy and dicta during its annual reports.

Bachelet has also said, “We have raised a lot of cases, very important cases.”

“I also share the concerns of UN human rights mechanisms about legitimate activities by lawyers, human rights defenders and others being penalised under the national security framework,” she has said.

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Bachelet has said her visits and meetings were all organized by her office and “they were unsupervised.”

However, she did not respond when asked whether the people she met included activists and dissidents that had been detained or were missing, noted the scmp.com May 28.

Besides, Bachelet’s access was limited as China arranged for her to travel in a “closed loop” – isolating people within a virtual bubble to prevent the spread of Covid-19 – with no foreign press.

As Bachelet’s visit was underway, China’s state media suggested that she would refute Western criticisms of serious rights violations in Xinjiang and put paid to those criticisms. 

Besides, following her online meeting with President Xi Jinping on May 25, state media suggested she supported China’s vision of human rights, noted the AFP May 28.

Her office later clarified that her remarks did not contain a direct endorsement of China’s rights record, the report added.

In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, Bachelet has said China and her office agreed to form a working group to exchange views on the rights of minorities and human rights in relation to counterterrorism, the internet and legal protection. China had similar arrangements with many Western democracies for decades and they have been criticized for not making any difference on the ground situation, given the lack of benchmarks for determining their success.

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