UN Caught Bowing to China's Behind-the-Scenes Pressure
Last week, Reuters uncovered a private letter from Chinese officials that requested the United Nations human rights chief hide a report on human rights violations in Xinjiang. The report has been in the development process for years at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. It’s believed to provide damning evidence of Chinese atrocities against the Uyghur population.
The letter from Chinese officials, addressed to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stated that releasing the report would “intensify politicization and bloc confrontation in the area of human rights” and “undermine the credibility of the OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights).” It concluded, “We strongly urge Madame High Commissioner not to publish such an assessment.”
In May, Bachelet sparked a firestorm of criticism during her historic trip to the Xinjiang region. Across the region, a web of internment camps detain innocent Uyghur people, where they are subjected to incessant indoctrination classes, abominable living conditions, and sometimes torture, rape, and forced sterilization. Despite the plethora of evidence of these abuses, Bachelet proceeded to echo Chinese Communist Party (CCP) talking points at the conclusion of her visit — a visit which the CCP relegated to a “closed loop” purportedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than identify and address human rights concerns, Bachelet sided with the oppressors.
The fact that China puts economic pressure on other countries to forward its international agenda is well known. But the letter to the high commissioner is rare proof of Chinese pressure at the United Nations. Sadly, it appears that Bachelet succumbed to Chinese demands.
At a protest in New York City earlier this week, Uyghur activists rallied to urge the OHCHR to release the report on Xinjiang. One survivor of an internment camp in Xinjiang, Gulzire Awalqun, said that “When we go to these prisons, they forcibly inject us with medication,” referring to the mysterious medical treatments forced on women in the camp that often leave them sterile.
Tursunay Ziawudun, also a survivor, stated, “We here are the live witnesses showing and telling what is truly happening... the concentration camps have not been shut down — unlike what the Chinese government claims. If they have been, we ask you to prove it by allowing us to return there to show the world that [the system of camps] has indeed been shut down and showing us the whereabouts of all these people.” These are the types of questions that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights should be asking.
The high commissioner is undermining the very mission of its office by refusing to disclose the truth about China’s human rights conditions. Blanchet’s decision will have far-reaching effects, for her response to the CCP’s coercion sets a critical precedent. In bowing to China’s demands, she signals to the world the U.N.’s top human rights official will ignore atrocities if the oppressor is powerful enough and exerts enough pressure. No oppressive regime, now or in the future, should be able to get away with that.
Bachelet’s term as high commissioner is coming to a close at the end of August. Her successor — who has yet to be nominated — must do what Bachelet neglected to do: Release the long-awaited report and expose and address the truth about the ongoing human rights crisis in Xinjiang.
Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."