There were more than a hundred media journalists from around the world connected to the virtual press conference that Michelle Bachelet gave on Saturday. Since 2005, no UN human rights commissioner has set foot on the Asian giant. There the great expectation. After a six-day tour that had as a special novelty a visit to Xinjiang, the region under constant scrutiny for Beijing’s repression against the Uyghur Muslim minority, Bachelet dedicated a large part of her speech to answering the questions agreed with the media Chinese about the human rights situation in the United States and the shooting in Uvalde.

The former president of Chile, considered for a long time a candidate to be the first woman to head the UN, suffered in her own flesh the repression of a dictatorship. She fled Chile in the 1970s after being imprisoned by the Pinochet regime and her father died in prison. Despite her background, there were not many expectations in Bachelet’s not at all transparent tour of Xinjiang with Beijing, such as her daring to denounce on Chinese soil all the documented atrocities that the regime has committed against the Uyghur population.

Bachelet’s most direct and harsh reference to Xinjiang was to urge China to “avoid arbitrary measures in the anti-terrorist campaign in the region.” Bachelet had been asking for an unrestricted trip for some time in order to investigate all the accusations. On the other hand, in his appearance with the media, he said that a “high-level” visit like his does not allow the “detailed methodology” of a “work of an investigative nature.” In other words, it has been a trip to test the terrain and meet with Chinese leaders rather than to investigate what happened in Xinjiang.

Human rights organizations have accused the Chilean of allowing herself to be used by China to whitewash abuses against ethnic minorities in the country. Meanwhile, Beijing presented the trip as a great opportunity to tell a success story, for the former Chilean president to help rid Xinjiang of Western prejudice and look at the Chinese government’s efforts to stamp out terrorism and religious extremism while promoting economy.

Xinjiang, a vast territory of deserts and mountains four times larger than Spain, is the province in which many and contrasting international reports have identified dozens of re-education camps, which for China are vocational training centers that are visited on a voluntary basis. Some centers with barbed wire, watchtowers, armed police guarding patios and corridors, and orders to shoot to kill in case of escape. More than a million Uyghurs -almost 10% of the Muslim minority living in the region- would have ended up there against their will under the premise of ending religious extremism after two decades of attacks.

The accusations of Uyghurs who were in detention centers and the journalistic investigations, as well as internal leaks from the Chinese government and the Xinjiang police, go much further: forced labor, destruction of mosques, forced sterilizations and torture, draconian surveillance and police persecution. .

Bachelet assured during the appearance that the Xinjiang authorities had guaranteed her that the network of “Vocational Education and Training Centers”, using the term adopted by Beijing, had already been dismantled. The Chilean also said that her meetings in the region were not supervised by the authorities. No media outlet was allowed to accompany the UN team under the excuse that it was a “closed circuit” trip due to the pandemic.

The Uyghur diaspora, especially the associations that make up the refugees in Turkey, have been warning all week that the trip was a choreographed tour to give legitimacy to Beijing’s propaganda, which repeatedly denies the repression committed in its northeast region.

The high commissioner’s visit coincided this week with the release of a major data leak from Xinjiang’s security apparatus, including mug shots of thousands of detained Uyghurs and internal documents outlining policies such as shooting anyone who tried to escape. An international media consortium had access to these documents, which serve as new proof of the existence of the internment camps that Beijing denies.

Following the publication of these papers, some countries expressed skepticism about what could realistically be achieved on Bachelet’s trip. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday asked her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi for a transparent investigation after “shocking reports and new evidence of very serious violations” of human rights in Xinjiang. “Bachelet and his office must take a hard look at these faces and press Chinese officials for full and unrestricted access and answers,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.

Bachelet met by video conference on Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who defended his country’s human rights record. “Through persistent and long-term hard work, China has successfully embarked on the path of human rights development,” Xi said.

“The situation is adjusted to national conditions. There is no ideal country on the issue of human rights. Deviating from reality and completely copying the institutional model of other countries will not only be difficult to adjust, but will also bring disastrous consequences and In the end, it is the broad masses of people who will suffer,” said the Chinese leader, according to the reading of the meeting by the state agency Xinhua, which also said that Bachelet, among other comments, told Xi that “she admired the efforts and China’s achievements in eradicating poverty, protecting human rights and achieving economic and social development.” From Bachelet’s office they later denied that the UN representative expressed herself in those terms.

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