During an online press conference organized at the end of her stay in the country, Michelle Bachelet recalled that her visit, from which the foreign press was excluded, did not constitute “not an investigation”.
According to the 70-year-old former Chilean president, this six-day stay allowed her to speak with “candor” to communist leaders about the repression carried out in Xinjiang (northwest) in the name of anti-terrorism.
This Chinese region has long been the scene of bloody attacks targeting civilians and committed, according to the authorities, by Uyghur separatists and Islamists – the main ethnic group in the region.
Xinjiang has thus been the subject of draconian surveillance for several years.
Western studies accuse Beijing of having interned more than a million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim ethnic groups in “re-education camps”, even of imposing “forced labor” or “forced sterilizations”.
The United States evokes a “genocide” and on Saturday expressed its “concern” about the “efforts” of Beijing “to restrict and manipulate this displacement”, declared the American Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
He said he was “troubled by reports that people in Xinjiang have been warned not to complain or speak openly about conditions in the region.”
China denounces biased reports and speaks of “vocational training centers” intended to develop employment and eradicate extremism. She denies any “forced sterilization”, saying only to apply the national birth control policy.
Human rights associations and members of the Uyghur diaspora accuse Beijing of having caught in the mesh of its anti-terrorism campaign people who have not committed any crime.
– “Propaganda” –
According to them, Uighurs would have been interned on the sole basis of supposed extremism, because of a beard that was too long, a suspicious trip abroad or religious beliefs deemed too advanced.
Michelle Bachelet thus called on China on Saturday to avoid “arbitrary and indiscriminate” measures in Xinjiang, while denouncing “violent acts of extremism”.
Words deemed too conciliatory by the World Uyghur Congress, an organization of exiles based in Germany and considered separatist by Beijing.
“If a High Commissioner for Human Rights remains silent, it is because she is failing in her duties,” he castigated in a press release. “Resigning is the only meaningful thing she can do.”
The human rights organization Amnesty International deplored the fact that Ms Bachelet fell into a “very predictable propaganda maneuver by the Chinese government”.
Chinese state media reported this week that she had praised China’s progress on human rights – remarks that the UN services have neither denied nor confirmed.
Overall, they covered his travels to a minimum, reporting only highly polished accounts of his meetings with President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“Some Western countries, driven by ulterior motives, had gone to great lengths to disrupt and undermine the visit of the High Commissioner. Their scheme failed,” Ma Zhaoxu, a deputy minister, said on Saturday evening. Chinese Foreign Affairs.
Amnesty International called on Michelle Bachelet to publish her report on Xinjiang as soon as possible, the publication of which has been repeatedly postponed, failing which it “would amount to betraying the victims and their families”.
Many Uighurs say they have no news of their imprisoned relatives.
“This question and others have been raised with the authorities,” assured Michelle Bachelet, adding that she had “raised a lot of cases”.
The High Commissioner strongly defended her stay, claiming to have been able to have access with the people she wanted to meet in Xinjiang “unsupervised” by the authorities.
Michelle Bachelet says she met, among others, members of civil society and the leader of the Chinese Communist Party in the region.
This visit to China was the first by a High Commissioner for Human Rights in 17 years. It follows tough negotiations between the UN and Beijing.
Michelle Bachelet traveled to Xinjiang in the regional capital, Urumqi, and said she visited a prison in the city of Kashgar, where she saw prisoners in particular, describing its access as “fairly open, fairly transparent”.
The Xinjiang government, she said, assured her that the network of “vocational training centers” had been “dismantled”. Michelle Bachelet said she visited one of these old centers.
Details of his visit have not been made public. The Chilean ex-president, in the name of the epidemic situation in China, was in a health bubble which kept her away from the foreign press.