The United Nation’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, intends to visit Xinjiang, China in May. While the UN will likely bill this visit as a fact-finding mission, it will be anything but. Beijing has already made clear that Bachelet can visit only so long as she conducts no investigations. In short, it will be a propaganda opportunity for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to whitewash its ongoing crimes against the Uyghurs.
Little to no information has been provided about the purpose of the High Commissioner’s visit. Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council continues to withhold a report documenting China’s mounting atrocity crimes against Uyghurs. The failure to release this report, despite outcry from the human rights community, casts further doubt over the intentions of this visit.
Uyghurs in China face what the U.S. government has determined constitutes ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity—a determination made by the Trump administration and reaffirmed by the Biden administration. Today, an estimated 1.8 million to 3 million Uyghurs are held in political reeducation camps. Countless Uyghurs are subject to forced labor; women are subject to forced abortions and forced sterilizations; families are being systematically separated.
These horrific realities are very well-documented, yet the High Commissioner will see none of it on her visit to Xinjiang. If past is prologue, Bachelet will witness only smiling Uyghurs forced to perform ethnic dances and recite CCP-indoctrinated tropes about their happiness and well-being.
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The Uyghur people are already subject to arguably some of the worst human rights violations of the 21st century. Rather than revictimize them, Bachelet should move to put the rights of the Uyghur people first.
Whether or not the trip goes forward—and it definitely should not—Bachelet should undertake the following action:
1. Release the United Nations report on the situation in Xinjiang.
Similar UN-issued reports—like the Commission of Inquiry report on North Korea or the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (also known as Burma)—were pivotal in triggering international action to respond to atrocity crimes. While there is broad awareness about the plight of the Uyghurs, the evidence and affirmation by the UN of the severity of the conditions they face is critical to sparking follow-on action to ensure support for the Uyghur people and accountability for the CCP.
2. Press for the release of all people in political reeducation camps.
Millions of Uyghurs languish inside the modern-day gulags in Xinjiang. The High Commissioner should press for their release by highlighting individuals by name. Putting names and faces to the plight of the Uyghur people is critical for both awareness and to spur action. If the CCP refuses to release prisoners, the UN should continue to press Beijing to provide proof of life to Uyghur family members outside the camps wondering whether their detained kin are even alive.
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3. Press for full, unfettered access to the Xinjiang region, especially political reeducation camps, for humanitarian groups like the UN, the World Food Programme, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The ultimate goal of the international community should be the closure of the camps and the release of every last prisoner from their unjust detention. However, in lieu of this, the UN—as one of the top providers of humanitarian assistance worldwide—should press Beijing to allow international humanitarian organizations access to the camps and the Xinjiang region to ensure, at minimum, access to food.
Instead of a visit to Xinjiang to participate in a CCP-organized propaganda photo op, Bachelet should take meaningful steps to ensure that the rights of the persecuted Uyghur people are respected. Even and especially since the CCP won’t.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/oliviaenos/2022/04/04/ms-bachelet---dont-go-to-xinjiang/?sh=5795c9214d3e