China is asking the UN human rights chief to bury a long-awaited report on human rights abuses in Xinjiang, according to a Chinese letter seen by Reuters and confirmed by the diplomats of the three countries who received it.
United Nations High Commissioner from civil society for being too soft on China during her May visit, and has since said she would refrain from running for a second term for personal reasons.
But before leaving at the end of August, she promised to publish a report on China’s western Xinjiang region.
Why is China trying to bury the report?
Human rights groups accuse Beijing of abusing the Uyghur people of Xinjiang, including the massive use of forced labor in internment camps. China denied the allegations.
The letter, written by China, expresses “serious concern” about the Xinjiang report and aims to stop its release, four sources said – three diplomats and a human rights expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They said China had begun distributing it to diplomatic missions in Geneva since late June and asked countries to sign it to show their support.
“The assessment (on Xinjiang), if published, will increase politicization and bloc opposition in the field of human rights, undermine the credibility of OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) and damage cooperation between OHCHR and Member States,” the letter says. with reference to Ms. Bachelet’s office.
“We urge Madam High Commissioner not to release such an assessment.”
Liu Yuyin, a spokesman for China’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, did not say whether the letter had been sent or answer questions about its contents.
Mr. Liu said that nearly 100 countries have recently expressed their support for China on Xinjiang-related issues, “and their objection to interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of respecting human rights.”
This support was expressed in public statements at the last session of the UN Human Rights Council, which ended on July 8, and in a “joint letter,” he added, using a term for China and other signatories.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters that Ms Bachelet witnessed “a real Xinjiang with a secure and stable society” when she visited the region during her trip to China in May.
The spokesman said that attempts by some countries to “tarnish China’s image” with the help of the Xinjiang issue will not succeed.
It is unclear whether Ms. Bachelet received the letter and the OHCHR representative declined to comment on the matter.
He added that the report on Xinjiang is being finalized before publication, noting that this includes the standard practice of providing a copy to China for its comments.
The report examines China’s treatment of the Uighur minority. A panel of human rights experts began collecting evidence more than three years ago, but for unclear reasons, publication was delayed by several months.
Reuters was unable to establish how many signatures the letter collected. One of the four sources, a diplomat from Geneva, responded positively to the letter, supporting his country.
Another version of the letter, also seen by Reuters, was more critical of Ms Bachelet’s actions, stating that the Xinjiang report had been prepared “without a mandate and in serious breach of OHCHR’s responsibilities” and would undermine her personal credibility.
It is unclear who edited it and why. The diplomat who signed the letter said the softer version was final.
China, like other countries, sometimes tries to win support for its political statements in the Geneva Council for Human Rights through diplomatic memos that ask other countries to support them.
They can sometimes influence the decisions of the 47-member board, whose actions are not legally binding, but can authorize investigations into alleged violations.
Two Genevan diplomats said China’s letter was a rare example of Beijing trying to directly lobby Ms. Bachelet. Sometimes, they say, it’s hard for countries to deny China human rights issues, given the close economic ties.
The memorandum comes at a critical time for the UN human rights body in the last few weeks of Ms Bachelet’s term, with no successor yet. A 70-year-old man is due to leave his post on 31 August.