The United Nations human rights chief has admitted to “tremendous pressure” over a long-delayed report on China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing stands accused of detaining more than one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.
Michelle Bachelet has repeatedly said she will publish a report on the rights situation in Xinjiang before her term ends on August 31.
“We’re trying very hard to do what I promised,” Bachelet said during her final press conference as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Thursday.
However, she added that there was uncertainty over when the report would appear as her office was under “tremendous pressure to publish or not to publish”.
“[We] received substantial input from the government [of China] that we will need to carefully review, as we do every time with any report with any country,” the UN rights chief said.
She received a letter signed by countries including North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba “asking for the non-publication” of the report, which has been repeatedly delayed.
Bachelet, whose successor has yet to be announced by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the enquiries about the report had been non-stop.
“You cannot imagine the numbers of letters, meetings asking for the publication. Huge amounts,” she said, adding that for the past year the issue came up “every day, every time, every… meeting”.
Campaigners accuse China of human rights violations in Xinjiang including mass incarceration, forced labour, compulsory sterilisation, family separation and the destruction of Uighur cultural and religious sites.
The United States and legislators in other Western countries have accused China of committing “genocide” against the minority groups.
Bachelet completed a long-awaited trip to the Xinjiang region earlier this year that sparked criticism. The US said ahead of her trip that it was “deeply concerned” that Bachelet had failed to secure guarantees on what she could see. She had previously demanded “unfettered” access to the area.
“We have no expectation that the PRC will grant the necessary access required to conduct a complete, unmanipulated assessment of the human rights environment in Xinjiang,” US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at the time, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth described the trip as “an utter failure” and stressed the need for the UN to release a “strong” Xinjiang report to “make up for that disaster and put us back on a path of putting real pressure on China to end its persecution” of the Uighurs.
After Bachelet returned from China, some 47 countries signed a statement asking for “more detailed observations, including on the restrictions the Chinese authorities imposed on the visit”. Academics specialising in Xinjiang also asked for more details on what had happened.
Beijing vehemently rejects the accusations of a crackdown in Xinjiang, calling them “the lie of the century”, and has said the Xinjiang camps are vocational training centres designed to counter extremism.