The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded her trip to China after six days without publicly criticizing the human rights situation in the Xinjiang region.

Her visit was "not an investigation," Michelle Bachelet said at a press conference on Saturday.

Rather, the aim of the trip was to address “concerns” and “serious allegations” in talks with the Chinese leadership in order to “potentially bring about a rethink”.

Friederike Böge

Political correspondent for China, North Korea and Mongolia.

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In her remarks on the situation in Xinjiang, Bachelet essentially followed the Chinese government's narrative that the re-education camps were "training centers" in connection with anti-terrorist measures.

Bachelet explained that she attended a “former training center”.

The government assured her that all centers had been closed.

Indeed, there is evidence that a number of re-education camps have been closed and the inmates either convicted and transferred to prison, placed in labor programs, or sent home under supervision.

Bachelet did not address the allegations of the use of forced laborers.

However, she called on the government to review all counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures.

Dismay and disappointment of loved ones

Addressing the relatives of interned Uyghurs, Bachelet said: "I heard you." The Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed that she had raised individual cases of internees at the request of relatives.

There are reports that relatives who approached the High Commission were intimidated by the Chinese.

Bachelet said her office is closely monitoring for any pressure or intimidation related to her visit.

Numerous relatives were disappointed and appalled after the press conference.

"Total treason," wrote Rayhan Esat, a US-based human rights lawyer whose brother was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Xinjiang.

"Is she joking?

It literally adopts China's reasoning," Esat wrote on Twitter.

Bachelet merely hinted at criticism of the oppression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

She is unable to "assess the full extent of the VETCs".

VETCs is the abbreviation for Vocation Education and Training Centers.

She "shares the concerns" of other UN bodies about China's anti-terrorist measures and has made it clear to the government that the program lacks independent legal oversight and that there are allegations of the use of force and restrictions on religious freedom.

Criticism of the timing of the trip

Bachelet was more specific and detailed about the human rights situation in the United States.

She was responding to a question from Chinese state television about police violence against African Americans and the Texas school massacre.

"We have to stop this.

It is a terrible human rights situation," said the High Commissioner.

She did not find similarly clear words about China.

In doing so, she gave the Chinese state media the opportunity to exploit her visit for propaganda purposes, especially as she praised the "enormous successes" in China's fight against poverty.

The United States had previously called Bachelet's trip a "mistake" and questioned the former Chilean president's access to Xinjiang.

Human rights activists had warned that the visit to China could help downplay the extent of the repression in Xinjiang.

The commissioner highlighted that she had "unsupervised" conversations.

However, she left open whether this also applied to Xinjiang or rather to the issue of women's rights, which she addressed in Guangzhou.

Experts consider it unthinkable that she could have met independent observers or even victims in Xinjiang.

“Of course we were part of a bubble because of the corona restrictions.

We were able to meet some people, not all," she said.

Some observers criticize the timing of the trip just before the end of Bachelet's first term.

Originally, the visit should have taken place earlier.

Because of the corona crisis, however, negotiations on this have been put on hold for more than two years, Bachelet explained.

They were only resumed in December 2021.

By then, the High Commissioner had announced that it would publish its own report on the human rights situation in Xinjiang, which the Office has been working on for years.

It is well known that China was keen to prevent this from happening, especially ahead of the Olympic Games.

The Chinese invitation to Bachelet may have to be seen in this context.

In any case, the report has not yet been published and Bachelet did not provide any information on Saturday.

The press conference ended after 45 minutes.

Also the justified Bachelet with "corona restrictions".

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