UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the opening of a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, February 28, 2022. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, will travel to Kashgar and Ürümqi on an official visit to China – “at the invitation of the Chinese government,” according to Beijing, from Monday, May 23 to Saturday, May 28. These cities are the two capitals of Xinjiang, a region where more than a million Uyghurs are being held captive and where China has committed “genocide,” accusations from several national parliaments. Due to the zero Covid policy, Michelle Bachelet will not be in Beijing. She was to land in Guangzhou and conduct interviews, presumably via video, with Chinese officials, business leaders, diplomats and “civil society organizations.”
This trip is high risk for the former Chilean President, who does not know if she will retain her functions at the helm of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) at the end of her first four-year term on September 1. “It’s the trip of a lifetime,” said the ambassador of a European country in Beijing. International circles in Geneva, who have criticized the UN agencies’ policy of appeasement towards China, see the trip as a “crucial, almost definitive test of the agency’s credibility”. On Friday, May 20, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was “extremely concerned” about the terms of that visit. “We do not believe that China will give him the necessary access to conduct a full and unbiased assessment of the human rights issue in Xinjiang.”
What, to whom will Michelle Bachelet have access and under what conditions? “We don’t usually go into detail on assignments,” the OHCHR spokesman said. As before all visits by UN delegations to countries with complicated contexts, “the terms of reference” are the subject of an agreement negotiated in great secrecy between the two parties over months about what the mission can and cannot see.
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The ambassador of a Central European country, who visited Xinjiang at the invitation of the Chinese government, tells how in a subsequent exchange with Asian ambassadors, who had also made a trip to the region organized by Beijing, he found that the passers-by officially met by chance, were the same every time. “In particular, we compared the photos and videos taken at the markets. It was the same people. Extras,” he says.
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