Could not speak to detained Uyghurs during Xinjiang visit: Bachelet

United Nations human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet, who has decided to not seek a second term, has admitted that there were limitations on her recent visit to Xinjiang. “I was not able to speak to any detained Uyghurs or their families. I was accompanied by government officials while in the region”, a report in The Guardian quoted her as saying today.

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 described as a propaganda coup for the Chinese government.

In a statement on Wednesday, Bachelet said she was able to meet members of civil society organisations without government supervision, but in Xinjiang was “accompanied by government officials throughout the visit”, according to The British daily.

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 other people “without supervision” and to have free and open discussions about their experiences.

At the time Bachelet said that because of the Covid bubble they weren’t able to meet everyone “but with the people we were able to speak to, it was in an unsupervised manner”.

On Wednesday she reiterated “limitations” on the visit. “As it would be true of any high-level visit which by definition is not an investigation mission, there were limitations especially given the prevailing Covid restrictions,” she said, according to the Guardian report.

“I visited Kashgar prison plus a former so-called VETC [vocational education and training centre], where I spoke to the authorities. I was not able to speak to any Uyghurs currently detained or their families during the visit. However, in anticipation of this, I did meet with some former detainees who are now outside the country and with families who have lost contact with loved ones ahead of my visit,” Bachelet’s statement read.

VETCs are the Chinese government’s name for a network of facilities in which an estimated one million Uyghurs have been detained and allegedly subject to human rights abuses, the Guardian report said. (SAT)