China Reportedly Trying to Prevent UN Rights Chief From Releasing Xinjiang Report

GENVE — China asks the United Nations human rights chief to bury a long-awaited report on human rights violations in Xinjiang, according to a Chinese letter seen by Reuters and confirmed by diplomats from three countries who received it.

United Nations High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has been heavily criticized by civil society for being too soft on China during a visit in May and has since said she will not seek a second term for personal reasons.

But before she leaves at the end of August, she has promised to publish a report on the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. Rights groups accuse Beijing of abusing Xinjiang’s Uyghur residents, including the massive use of forced labor in internment camps. China has vehemently denied the allegations.

The letter written by China expressed “serious concern” about the Xinjiang report and aims to stop its release, according to four sources — the three diplomats and a law expert who all spoke on condition of anonymity. They said China began distributing it to diplomatic missions in Geneva in late June and asked countries to sign it to show their support.

“The assessment (on Xinjiang), if published, will intensify politicization and bloc confrontation on human rights, undermine the credibility of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), and harm cooperation between the OHCHR and member states” , the letter said, referring to Bachelet’s office.

“We strongly urge the High Commissioner not to publish such an assessment.”

Liu Yuyin, a spokesman for China’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, did not say whether the letter had been sent or responded to questions about its contents.

Liu said nearly 100 countries had recently expressed support for China on Xinjiang-related issues “and their opposition to meddling in China’s internal affairs under the guise of human rights.”

A security official watches from a watchtower at a detention center in China’s Xinjiang region last year. Ng Han Guan / AP

This support was reflected in public statements at the last session of the UN Human Rights Council, which ended on July 8, and through the “joint letter,” Liu added, using a term to designate China and the other signatories.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry told Reuters that Bachelet would have witnessed a “true Xinjiang with a safe and stable society” when she visited the region during her May trip to China.

The spokesman said attempts by some countries to “tarnish China’s image” using the Xinjiang issue would not succeed.

It was not clear whether Bachelet had received the letter and an OHCHR spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

The Xinjiang report will be finalized before it is made public, he added, saying it includes standard practice to share a copy with China for its comments.

The report examines China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority. A team of law experts began collecting evidence for it more than three years ago, but its release has been delayed for months for reasons that are unclear.

Reuters could not determine how many signatures the letter received. One of the four sources, a diplomat from Geneva, responded to the letter expressing positive support for his country.

China, like other countries, sometimes tries to gain support for its political statements within the Geneva-based judiciary through diplomatic memos asking others to support.

These can sometimes affect decisions in the 47-member council, whose actions are not legally binding, but may allow investigations into suspected violations.

Two of Geneva’s diplomats said China’s letter is a rare example of evidence that Beijing is trying to lobby Bachelet directly. Sometimes they say that countries find it difficult to say no to China on human rights issues, given the close economic ties.

The memo comes at a critical time for the UN rights body in the last few weeks of Bachelet’s tenure, with no successor named. Bachelet, 70, will leave office on August 31.

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