China Trying to Block U.N. Assessment of Human Rights in Xinjiang: Report

Chinese diplomats in Geneva are trying to stop the publication of a United Nations report on the human rights situation in Xinjiang, Reuters reported Wednesday.

A "joint letter" written by the Chinese mission and circulated among other member states in a bid to collectively lobby the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed "grave concern" about the U.N.'s report, the content of which Beijing has already seen.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet was panned by human rights groups in late May when she accepted the Chinese government's invitation to visit Xinjiang and returned with inconclusive results. China framed her trip as a success that vindicated its policies in the northwestern region.

Human rights groups and governments, including the United States, believe gross human rights violations are taking place against Xinjiang's native population of Uyghur Muslims—more than a million of whom are thought to have been subjected to abuses, including mass detention, forced labor, and religious suppression.

Beijing fiercely denies all allegations, arguing that large centers built to educate Uyghurs, widespread surveillance, and restrictive policies on Islam were implemented as part of a years-long effort to combat terrorism and religious extremism.

China Seeking To Block UN's Xinjiang Report
Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and now U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks to the media on October 27, 2014, in Berlin, Germany. China is lobbying Bachelet in an attempt to stop the publication of her office’s report into the human rights situation in Xinjiang, Reuters reported on July 20, 2022. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In the aftermath of her visit, Bachelet, 70, announced she wouldn't be seeking a second term after her current tenure ends at the end of August. But she did commit to publishing her office's assessment of human rights conditions in Xinjiang, a report that has been awaiting publication for a year after she had originally failed to gain meaningful access to China in 2021.

"We had discussions on specific human rights concerns, including human rights violations in the context of China's policies for countering terrorism and safeguarding national security," Bachelet said in an oral report to the Human Rights Council last month.

The U.N. official said she was "unable to assess the full scale" of China's reeducation policies in the region.

"I also raised concerns regarding the human rights situation of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, including broad arbitrary detention and patterns of abuse," she said. "My Office's assessment of the human rights situation in Xinjiang is being updated. It will be shared with the Government for factual comments before publication."

The Reuters report, verified by diplomats who received the letter, said Beijing had been gathering signatures since late June in order to convince Bachelet to bury her office's assessment.

"Xinjiang-related issues are China's internal affairs," said the Chinese letter, a copy of which was being shared among rights groups on Twitter. "The OHCHR's so-called assessment on Xinjiang is of grave concern to us."

According to Reuters, the letter said the U.N. report would "intensify politicization and bloc confrontation in the area of human rights, undermine the credibility of the OHCHR, and harm the cooperation between OHCHR and member states."

"We strongly urge Madame High Commissioner not to publish such an assessment," it said.

An OHCHR spokesperson told Reuters that Bachelet intended to publish the report before the end of her term.