Outgoing UN Rights Chief: No Guarantee She’ll Release Long Awaited Xinjiang Report Before Leaving

Patrick Goodenough | August 26, 2022 | 5:42am EDT
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Outgoing U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addresses a press conference in Geneva on Thursday. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
Outgoing U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addresses a press conference in Geneva on Thursday. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.N.’s top human rights official was unable Thursday to guarantee that she would be able to release a long-delayed report on the situation in Xinjiang before she steps down next week, and confirmed she had received an appeal from China and dozens of other countries asking her to withhold it.

At a press conference in Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also said she had come under pressure from parties calling for the report’s release.

Although she insisted she would not be swayed by pressure on either side, if she does not publish the report as promised before her August 31 departure, China and its supporters will view that as a partial victory, at least. Whether or when her successor – who has not yet been selected – would release it remains to be seen.

Beijing vehemently denies allegations of mass-scale abuses against Muslim minority Uyghurs and others in its far-western region, abuses which the U.S. government says amount to crimes against humanity and genocide.

Bachelet’s Office of the Human Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) began working on the assessment early in her four-year term, and last September she announced that it was being finalized for public release. But 11 months later, and following a controversy-plagued visit by Bachelet to China in May, it has yet to see the light of day.

Bachelet began her press conference with a 2,000-word statement that mentioned numerous situations around the world but was silent on Xinjiang. (She mentioned China twice – once with regard to the death penalty and once in a short list of countries she has visited since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Xinjiang came up only when reporters raised the issue following her prepared remarks.

Bachelet attributed the delay in releasing the report to the receipt of “substantial input” from Beijing, which was given access to the draft, in line with what she called “normal practice.”

“We’re working on the report,” she said. “I had fully intended for it to be released before the end of my mandate, and we’ll try.”

“Now we have received substantial input from the [Chinese] government that we will need to carefully review, as we do every time, with any report, with any countries.”

Michelle Bachelet at a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
Michelle Bachelet at a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

During her May visit, Bachelet said, she had raised concerns with Chinese officials about reported violations in Xinjiang, including arbitrary detentions and ill-treatment.

She said the OHCHR report examines “in depth” those and other serious human rights violations in Xinjiang.

On the delay in releasing the report, Bachelet also said she wanted to prioritize the visit, to “engage with senior officials on human rights issues, to be able to convey directly those allegations to them.”

“And following my visit to China, the report continued to be reviewed and finalised,” to take into account what she had seen while there.

“We’re trying very hard to do what I promised,” she said in reference to her pledge to publish the report before she leaves.

Last month Reuters reported that China and supporters were urging Bachelet not to release the report, arguing in a letter that if made public, it “will intensify politicization” and undermine the OHCHR’s credibility.

Asked about that claim, Bachelet confirmed having received a letter from around 40 countries, “asking for the non-publication.”

She said she had also heard appeals from other quarters to release the report.

“You cannot imagine the numbers of letters, meetings, asking for the publication – huge numbers,” Bachelet said.

“I have been under tremendous pressure, to publish, or not to publish. But I will not publish or withhold publication due to any such pressure, I can assure you of that.”

The OHCHR’s work, she said, “is guided by human rights methodology and the facts on the ground and objective legal analysis.”

World Uyghur Congress (WUC) President Dolkun Isa said he was “alarmed to see the high commissioner discuss the end of her term without even one mention of the Uyghur situation or her long-awaited report.”

“The Chinese government has carried out a large-scale campaign to bury this report, including using its economic power to lobby foreign nations to become complicit in its attempts to suppress the U.N.’s findings,’ WUC said.

“This only increases the need for transparency and urgency – the credibility of the U.N. Office on Human Rights relies on the release of this report, in full, before the high commissioner’s term ends.”

The State Department released a report Wednesday accusing China of active attempts to “manipulate and dominate global discourse on Xinjiang,” amplifying its narratives and drowning out those critical of its repressive policies in the region.


Sept. 2018: Bachelet takes up her post, tells Human Rights Council (HRC) on day one that she hopes to visit Xinjiang, to investigate “deeply disturbing allegations of large-scale arbitrary detentions.”

2019: As efforts to arrange a visit continue, the OHCHR launches an “assessment” of the available information on the human rights situation in Xinjiang.

Jun. 2019, Sept. 2020, Feb. 2021, Jun. 2021: Bachelet reports periodically to HRC on ongoing, as-yet unsuccessful, efforts to arrange a visit, that will include “meaningful access” in Xinjiang

Sept. 2021: Bachelet tells HRC that while she can still report no progress on the hoped-for visit, “in the meantime, my office is finalizing its assessment of the available information on allegations of serious human rights violations in that region, with a view to making it public.”

Dec. 2021: OHCHR spokesman says release of Xinjiang report is expected within several weeks, although not before the February 4-20 Beijing Olympics.

Jan. 28, 2022: OHCHR says still no final agreement for a visit, but it won’t take place before Beijing Olympics.

Mar. 8:  Bachelet announces arrangements have been approved for her visit to Xinjiang, in May.

Apr. 20:  U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield joins calls for immediate release of OHCHR report; Beijing rejects “malicious pressure.”

Apr. 28: OHCHR says draft report must first be shown to Beijing for its input, before release

May 23-28: Bachelet pays six-day visit to China, amid criticism from the U.S. and others over restrictions agreed between her office and her hosts.

May 28: In an end-of-visit press conference, she upsets critics by not clearly calling out Beijing over atrocities in Xinjiang, and by using Chinese terminology – specifically, “vocational and education training centers” for internment camps where more than a million Uyghurs have reportedly been incarcerated.

May 30:  Beijing says of Bachelet’s visit, “All lies and rumors related to Xinjiang have fallen apart in front of facts and truth.”

Jun. 13:  Amid calls for her resignation, Bachelet announces she will not stand for a second term when her current one ends of August 31. She says the decision is unrelated to the Xinjiang visit or criticism.

Jun. 13: Bachelet says she expects the OHCHR report to be released before her term ends.

Aug. 25: Bachelet says she “had fully intended for it to be released before the end of my mandate, and we’ll try.”

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