UN rights chief cites 'need' to assess rights in Xinjiang

JAMEY KEATEN
·2-min read

GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations' human rights chief on Friday cited the need for an “independent and comprehensive assessment” of the rights situation in China’s Xinjiang region, while emphasizing that activists, lawyers and rights defenders face unfair charges, detention and trials in China.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said her office is working to find “mutually agreeable parameters” for her to visit China, including Xinjiang. Efforts to arrange such a visit for the human rights commissioner date to before she took office in September 2018.

Bachelet discussed China while giving the U.N.'s Human Rights Council her regular update on the rights situation worldwide, this time involving some 50 countries.

Bachelet credited China’s progress in curbing COVID-19 but said “fundamental rights and civic freedoms continue to be curtailed in the name of national security and the COVID-19 response.” She said over 600 people are being investigated for participating in protests in Hong Kong.

Concerns about detention centers -- which China calls training centers -- for Muslim Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang have provoked human rights concerns for many months, and Bachelet’s office and Chinese authorities have so far failed to arrange a visit for her to the region.

“In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, information that is in the public domain indicates the need for independent and comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation,” Bachelet said, adding that her office was looking into reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and sexual violence in institutions, among other rights issues.

Rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said discussions were continuing for a “preparatory technical mission” that could pave the way for Bachelet to visit China. Shamdasani said such a mission was needed before a Bachelet visit "to ensure meaningful access.”

Bachelet’s address ran through an array of rights concerns and issues, including “the growing expansion of the definition of ‘foreign agent’” in Russia; a “serious contraction of civic space” in several countries in southeast Asia; “excessive use of force” against demonstrators in some South American countries, and “charges of sedition against journalists and activists” in India for reporting or commenting on protests by farmers there.

She noted several European governments restricted the work of groups that defend migrants’ rights, and cited some 50 cases opened in Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain over the last five years involving humanitarian search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea.

The comments were separate from other Bachelet speeches and council discussions on “major country situations” about places that included Belarus, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Venezuela

Overall, Bachelet cautioned about the impact of COVID-19 on human rights.

“Today, in every region of the world, people are being left behind -- or pushed even further behind -- as the coronavirus pandemic continues to gather pace,” she said.