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Duped by China, UN Human Rights Commissioner Must Correct Course

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According to a BBC report: “Some of the re-education camp photos show guards standing by, armed with batons. Yet claims of coercion have been consistently denied by China’s most senior officials. “The truth is the education and training centres in Xinjiang are schools that help people free themselves from extremism,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in 2019.

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On July 15, a new documentary by French director Christophe Cognet opened in New York. The film, From Where They Stood, tells the story of photos taken clandestinely by prisoners of the Nazis in 1943–1944. The film serves as “testimony to the millions of lives lost,” as the producers describe it, and to “the courage of those who risked everything to send us these artifacts from hell.”

It’s been three months since the world learned about the leaked detainee photos of Uyghurs, taken by Chinese police in 2017–2018. More than 2,800 of them appear in the “Xinjiang Police Files.” Everyone who has seen the row upon row of detainee mugshots is haunted by them, and the echoes of past genocides. Uyghurs were taken because of “growing a beard” or having “studied Islamic scripture.” The youngest detainee is a 15-year-old girl. The oldest is a 73-year-old woman. Scrolling through the images is an overwhelming and dismal experience. 

However, the mugshots of over 2,800 confirmed detained persons represent only a fraction of the millions interned, imprisoned, and disappeared. It is a testament to China’s well-organized destruction of an entire people. 

The leaked documents contain speech transcripts, training materials, and official orders, providing horrific details of the mass internment campaign targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples. The documents also provide evidence of Xi Jinping’s direct involvement in crimes against humanity, and the shoot-to-kill policy for camp escapees, ordered by former top regional official Chen Quanguo. 

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One of the most stunning aspects of the “Xinjiang Police Files” is that it occurred four days before UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet held a press conference in Beijing parroting the Chinese government’s own narrative. After completing a six-day visit to China, including two days in the Uyghur homeland of East Turkistan, Ms. Bachelet’s comments were shocking. Her remarks were mostly a review of Chinese government disinformation, even repeating the government’s false framing of its atrocities as steps for “poverty alleviation” and  “de-radicalization” of Uyghurs. 

Ms. Bachelet said not a word about well-documented atrocities targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples. She talked about “unduly severe restrictions” on religion, but said nothing about mass arbitrary detention and imprisonment of Uyghur intellectuals, religious figures, and ordinary people. She did not mention the systematic eradication of Uyghur culture, religion, and language. She made no mention of torture, forced labor, enforced separation of children from their families, or forced sterilization and other coercive birth prevention policies.

Before her trip, I specifically urged the High Commissioner not to allow the visit to amount to a “PR victory” for the perpetrators of genocide. But the High Commissioner and her team went ahead anyway, walking straight into a minefield prepared by Chinese officials, who controlled where she went and who she spoke with. She really should have known better. It is obvious, as I and others warned, that the UN would not be able to uncover anything that the government wanted to hide in our homeland. After five years living under the threat of imprisonment or internment, not one Uyghur can speak openly. 

There is, however, a chance for redemption for Ms. Bachelet and her mission of defending  human rights. 

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She should immediately release her long-awaited assessment of the situation facing Uyghurs, and then take it to every UN agency that has so far refused to even mention the issue. 

Without the High Commissioner’s official documentation on atrocities by the Xinjiang government, the UN system is paralyzed. The incredible scale of cultural destruction should activate UNESCO.

Widespread, state-sanctioned forced labor should mobilize the ILO. Extensive documentation of acts of genocide and crimes against humanity should set off alarm bells for the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and indeed the UN Security Council. 

If Ms. Bachelet doesn’t plan on running for a second term when her mandate expires in August, why not stand up and fulfill her role as the UN’s highest human rights official? Why not defend the most vulnerable people in need of support, and publish the honest, independent assessment that the world has been waiting for? Ms. Bachelet should not be fearful of China. It is the job of her office to publish the assessment without delay and include the Chinese state’s interference in conducting a free and fair investigation.

It is rare that one individual, or one office, holds so much power over how the story of the Uyghurs is told in the coming months. I urge her to tell the honest story, backed up by a wealth of evidence, such as the “Xinjiang Police Files,” so that governments can finally break their silence. 

To the rows and rows of Uyghurs looking at us from their mugshots, Ms. Bachelet must send a message that the United Nations has opted for ending the nightmare of the Uyghur people and ending four long years of shameful inaction.      

Omer Kanat is Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Follow him on Twitter at @omerkanat1 

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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