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How can the United Nations engage with China on human rights?

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, visited China late last month in the first visit by someone to her post in nearly two decades. She went there in the hope of opening a structure for future regular discussions between the UN human rights office and the Chinese government.

Instead, she unleashed a firestorm of criticism from rights advocates and academics over how she approached her visit and what she saw. Dozens of organizations representing Uyghur and Tibetan ethnic minorities and Hong Kongers have called on Ms Bachelet to resign, accusing her of “whitewashing” abuses and “squandering” an opportunity to hold Beijing accountable for well-documented rights abuses. Meanwhile, the Chinese government hailed the visit to highlight the nation’s human rights achievements.

Why we wrote this

How can the United Nations, and others, engage with China on human rights while preserving their integrity? A recent trip by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet highlights the challenges of promoting change.

The controversy sparked by Ms. Bachelet’s trip has highlighted China’s efforts to blunt criticism of its record and advance its own state-centric human rights agenda, which is at odds with the principles universal human rights standards endorsed by the United Nations.

China is “much bolder [than it used to be] in challenging ideas of the universality and indivisibility of human rights,” says Rosemary Foot, author of a book on the UN in China and senior research fellow at the University of Oxford.

beijing

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has unleashed a storm of criticism from rights advocates and academics – and praise from the Chinese government – ​​after stepping into the gaping chasm on human rights between authoritarian China and the liberal West.

Ms Bachelet visited China late last month in the first visit by a UN human rights commissioner in nearly two decades. His visit to a region notorious for abuses against minority groups and his end-of-trip remarks echoing Chinese state rhetoric have angered rights groups. Dozens of organizations representing Uyghur and Tibetan ethnic minorities and Hong Kongers have called on Ms Bachelet to resign, accusing her of ‘whitewashing’ abuses and ‘wasting’ an opportunity to hold Beijing accountable during her trip to China, including including the northwest region of Xinjiang. .

The Chinese government, meanwhile, hailed the visit for highlighting China’s human rights achievements. It allowed Ms. Bachelet “to observe and experience a real Xinjiang first-hand”, Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said, denouncing accusations of rights abuses in the region as “palpable lies”.

Why we wrote this

How can the United Nations, and others, engage with China on human rights while preserving their integrity? A recent trip by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet highlights the challenges of promoting change.

In her annual report to the 50th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, Bachelet apparently tried to adjust her course, toughening her language on China. She highlighted “human rights abuses” affecting ethnic and religious minorities and raised concerns about the human rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, “including the large-scale arbitrary detention and patterns of abuse” in detention centres. She also announced that she would not seek a second term as high commissioner.

The controversy sparked by Ms Bachelet’s trip highlighted China’s efforts to blunt criticism of its record and advance its own state-centric global rights agenda, contrary to universal human rights principles. approved by the United Nations, according to experts.

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Post expires at 3:02pm on Friday June 24th, 2022