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Christian charity calls for UN High Commissioner to have mandate removed over 'failing' to condemn human rights violations in China

by Donna Birrell

Christian charities and human rights defenders across the world have expressed anger and disappointment claiming the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights failed to condemn violations of human rights by the Chinese authorities following her visit to China at the end of May.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) was among 60 charities and organisations which wrote a letter to Michelle Bachelet ahead of the visit urging her to raise violations to the right to freedom of religion or belief. They say she failed to address the concerns and avoided direct criticism of China’s human rights record.

CSW’s founder president Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is deeply disappointed that the UN High Commissioner has failed to condemn the serious human rights violations perpetrated by the Chinese authorities, including violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, especially given her personal experiences of exile, and the arbitrary detention, torture, and death in custody of a family member.

"We are also dismayed at the lack of transparency surrounding the terms of the visit, and a failure to fully engage with witnesses and survivors of human rights violations, as well as civil society organisations both prior to and during the visit. It is hard to overstate the anger and disappointment of the family members of people who have suffered even to the point of death at the hands of this regime. Rather than providing new hope for accountability, this visit and the subsequent statement risk undermining the credibility of the High Commissioner’s office. Uyghurs and other activist groups have already called for the resignation of the High Commissioner.  At a minimum, the UN Secretary General should ensure that her mandate is not renewed.”

CSW says the High Commissioner didn't condemn the mass detention of over a million Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang and failed to address recent leaked documents which revealed a “shoot-to-kill” policy in response to escape attempts, and widespread sexual violence, torture and forced labour in connection with the camps.

CSW says Ms Bachelet only mentioned Tibet briefly “making no mention of the arbitrary detention and torture of Tibetan activists and Buddhist monks, and other egregious human rights violations. It also made only passing mention of “concerns” about the penalising of human rights defenders’ legitimate activities, and made no mention of the widespread and severe violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief against Catholics, Falun Gong practitioners, Protestants and others.”

Tibetan human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, who completed a four-year prison sentence in March 2022 wrote on Twitter:

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet's visit to China makes me feel that she is not here to criticise China for its human rights issues, but rather to apologise for criticising China's human rights issues. I do not think she is fit to continue to be the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights." 

One Muslim scholar told CSW: “[The High Commissioner’s] visit did not work. It only gave the CCP an additional opportunity to put on a show. Bachelet did not raise the issues at all. Why did she not mention anything about all the evidence, especially the more than 2,800 photos (of Xinjiang camp detainees) that came to light since her visit? Everyone was disgusted: it was a shameless show.”

In her statment, Ms Bachelet said: "This visit was not an investigation – official visits by a High Commissioner are by their nature high-profile and simply not conducive to the kind of detailed, methodical, discreet work of an investigative nature. The visit was an opportunity to hold direct discussions – with China’s most senior leaders – on human rights, to listen to each other, raise concerns, explore and pave the way for more regular, meaningful interactions in the future, with a view to supporting China in fulfilling its obligations under international human rights law."

The full statment can be read here.


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