The UN rights chief has called for concerted action to recover from the worst global deterioration in rights she has ever seen, highlighting the situation in China, Russia and Ethiopia, among others.
“To recover from the broadest and most severe cascade of human rights setbacks in our lives, we need a life-changing vision and concerted action,” said Michelle Bachelet at the opening of the 47th session of the Human Rights Council of the ONU.
The session, which will last until July 13 and will be held virtually, will include a highly anticipated report from Bachelet on systemic racism and draft resolutions on Myanmar, Belarus and the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.
In her opening speech, Bachelet said she was deeply disturbed by reports of “grave violations” in Tigray, ravaged by war and with some 350,000 people threatened by famine.
He pointed to “extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, sexual violence against children and adults” and said he had “credible reports” that Eritrean soldiers continued to operate in the region.
Other parts of Ethiopia, which held elections on Monday, also saw “alarming incidents of deadly ethnic and intercommunal violence and displacement,” Bachelet said.
“The continued deployment of military forces is not a durable solution,” he said, calling for a national dialogue.
Bachelet also condemned the situation in northern Mozambique, devastated by recent deadly jihadist violence, where she said food insecurity was increasing and “nearly 800,000 people, including 364,000 children” had been forced to flee their homes.
The UN rights chief also noted the “chilling impact” of a comprehensive national security law introduced in Hong Kong.
The law, which came into force on the eve of July 1, 2020, is seen as the spearhead of a radical crackdown on critics of Beijing in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong following massive protests for democracy in 2019.
It has criminalized much of the dissent, given China jurisdiction over some cases, and given the authorities powerful new investigative powers.
Bachelet warned that “107 people have been detained under the National Security Law and 57 have been formally charged.”
He also pointed to “reports of serious human rights violations” in China’s Xinjiang region, and said he expected Beijing to grant him a long-discussed visit there, including “meaningful access” this year.
The UN human rights chief has faced diplomatic pressure to speak about China’s policies in the northwest region, where the United States has accused Beijing of genocide and crimes against humanity against Uighurs.
At least one million Uighurs and other minorities, mostly Muslim, have been held in camps, according to human rights groups, allegations that Beijing vehemently denies.
Liu Yuyin, spokesman for the Chinese mission in Geneva, said Bachelet had made “wrong comments” about Hong Kong and Xinjiang and that he should “stop making wrong comments that interfere with China’s sovereignty and judicial independence.”
Liu said Bachelet would be welcome to visit Xinjiang, but that the trip “should be amicable … rather than doing the so-called ‘investigation’ under the presumption of guilt.”
Dozens of countries, led by Canada, are expected to submit a joint statement to the council on Tuesday, which will reportedly express concern about the rights situation in Xinjiang and demand that China grant Bachelet and other independent observers unrestricted access.
“Certain countries and forces, for political reasons, spread outright lies about Xinjiang in an attempt to tarnish the image of China,” Liu said. “Your attempt will go nowhere.”
Bachelet also criticized recent Kremlin measures reducing the space for opposing political views and access to participation in the September elections.
He highlighted recent moves to dismantle the movement of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Unless their organizations work in the country, a Moscow court earlier this month called them “extremists” in a ruling that Bachelet said was “based on vaguely defined charges of trying to change the foundations of the constitutional order.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation prohibiting staff, members and patrons of “extremist” groups from standing in parliamentary elections.
“I call on Russia to defend civil and political rights,” Bachelet said.