BEIJING – The United Nations’ human rights chief has urged China to review all of its counter-terrorism measures in Xinjiang, and ensure they are in line with international standards, and not applied “in an arbitrary and discriminatory way”.
Wrapping up her six-day official visit to the country – the first by a UN human rights high commissioner in 17 years, Ms Michelle Bachelet said on Saturday night (May 28) that while violent acts of extremism have a significant impact on the lives and safety of the community, it is critical that responses do not violate human rights.
“The application of relevant laws and policies, and any mandatory measures imposed on individuals, need to be subject to independent judicial oversight, with greater transparency of judicial proceedings,” she told reporters via a video link from Guangzhou.
“All victims must be able to seek redress.”
Ms Bachelet had gone to Kashgar and Urumqi in China’s western Xinjiang province, where more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities had supposedly been held in detention camps to be deradicalised.
Beijing says these are vocational educational and training centres (VETCs), and all participants had graduated by 2019.
The UN rights chief said she had been assured by the authorities that these camps had been dismantled.
“While I am unable to assess the full scale of the VETCs, I raised with the government the lack of independent judicial oversight of the operation of the programme, the reliance by law enforcement officials on 15 indicators to determine tendencies towards violent extremism, allegations of the use of force and ill treatment in institutions, and reports of unduly severe restrictions on legitimate religious practices,” she said.
She did not elaborate on what those indicators are.
Ms Bachelet’s visit had been shadowed by nagging doubts about the level of access she would receive, especially since she would be travelling within a closed-loop bubble to prevent the spread of Covid-19. No media accompanied her.
Last Monday, during her video call with dozens of diplomats, United States Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and some others expressed concern that she would be led on a highly controlled and choreographed tour by Beijing.
The US had called her visit under such conditions “a mistake”.