Michelle Bachelet said she was unable to speak to detained Uyghurs or their families during her controversial visit to Xinjiang and was accompanied by government officials in the region.
The UN human rights chief, who announced this week that she would not seek another term, told a session of the 50th Human Rights Council in Geneva that her visit to the region of China was limited, where authorities were accused of committing crimes. against humanity and genocide against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
Bachelet and a team from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spent six days in Guangdong and Xinjiang for a visit that activists and some Western governments have called a propaganda stunt for the Chinese government.
In a statement on Wednesday, Bachelet said she was able to meet with members of civil society organizations without government supervision, but in Xinjiang she was “accompanied by government officials throughout the visit.”
At a press conference in Guangdong held on the final day of her tour, Bachelet was asked directly by the Guardian about her ability to speak to Uyghur civilians and others “unsupervised” and to have free and open discussions. open about their experiences.
At the time, Bachelet said that because of the Covid bubble, they hadn’t been able to meet everyone “but with the people we were able to talk to, it was in an unsupervised way”.
On Wednesday, she reiterated the “limitations” of the visit. “As would be the case with any high-level visit which, by definition, is not a fact-finding mission, there were limitations, particularly given the prevailing Covid restrictions,” she said. .
“I visited Kashgar prison as well as a former so-called VETC [vocational education and training centre], where I spoke to the authorities. I was unable to speak to the Uyghurs currently detained or their families during the visit. However, in anticipation of this, I met former inmates who are now outside the country and families who lost contact with loved ones prior to my visit. »
After her visit, Bachelet was criticized by rights groups, some Western governments and Uyghur activists for failing to strongly condemn Chinese government abuses in Xinjiang and for using language favored by the government during her lecture. press, including “vocational education and training center”. The VETCs are the name given by the government to a network of facilities in which an estimated one million Uyghurs have been detained and allegedly subjected to human rights abuses.
Activists, including Uyghur human rights lawyer Rayhan Asat, told media that their families in Xinjiang were prevented from leaving their homes by authorities during Bachelet’s visit. Asat’s brother has been detained in the Xinjiang system since his disappearance in 2016.
OHCHR has come under pressure to release a long-awaited report on China’s human rights situation, which was completed in late 2021.
In a separate address on Wednesday, Bachelet said his office was working on updates to their assessment of the situation in Xinjiang, which would be shared with the Chinese government for comment before publication.