Your Monday Briefing: A ‘Toothless’ Journey to Xinjiang

Good morning. We’re talking about the UN chief of human rights’s trip to China, India’s comprehensive protections for sex workers, and Ukraine’s offensive in Kherson.

The United Nations’ top human rights official spent six days in China and offered only limited criticism of China’s crackdown on predominantly Muslim minorities.

Michelle Bachelet said her visit was “not an investigation” and that she had raised questions about China’s application of “counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures” when she spoke via video with China’s leader Xi Jinping.

In doing so, Bachelet formulated her references to Xinjiang — where rights groups and scholars say China has held a million or more people in indoctrination camps — in Beijing’s preferred language: It has described its program as vocational training in response to terrorist attacks.

Rights groups and foreign Uyghurs strongly condemned her statements. Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director, called for “a credible investigation in the light of mountains of evidence of atrocities, not another toothless dialogue.”

Analysis: China’s increasing global influence has translated into growing influence within the UN. Critics described Bachelet’s journey as the latest example of China’s success in co-opting multinational organizations, including the WHO, which endorsed parts of Beijing’s story about the origins of the pandemic.

Propaganda: Authorities did their utmost to portray the story surrounding her visit, the first by a high commissioner for human rights since 2005. State media misquoted Bachelet for praising Beijing for “protecting human rights”, while officials threatened the families of Uyghurs living abroad and requested an investigation.

Company: Companies that source cotton from Xinjiang are pushing for insight into operations to assess widespread allegations of forced labor.


Sex work is legal in India, but practitioners often face marginalization, harassment and abuse by the police. Sometimes, when the police are looking for sex trafficking victims, they arrest prostitutes who have committed no crimes.

After legislative efforts failed, the country’s Supreme Court urged police to take a more nuanced and humane approach, identifying two categories: voluntarily employed, consenting adults; and minors, victims of human trafficking and people who want to leave the industry.

For consenting adults, the court said, the police must refrain from arrests and other forms of harassment, and not separate sex workers from their children. “Police attitudes towards sex workers are often brutal and violent,” the court wrote, adding that “police should treat all sex workers with dignity.”

Background: The perception that prostitutes are criminals makes them vulnerable to violence, researchers say. Human traffickers and crushing poverty have forced most of India’s estimated 900,000 sex workers into the industry.


Silingan Coffee, a cafe in a trendy neighborhood outside Manila, is mainly staffed by the relatives of people killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

“We tell clients about our lives and how this place is a place of healing for us,” said Sharon Angeles, the chief barista. “We also tell them, if they’ll listen, why Duterte’s drug war is a war on the poor, not on drugs.”

In 1942, a lifeless man washed up on the coast of Christmas Island. In the 1990s, the Royal Australian Navy began to suspect that he was a sailor on a warship sunk during World War II. But when researchers exhumed his remains in 2006, his DNA failed to match a list of possible descendants.

Now scientists believe they have finally identified the sailor using DNA phenotyping, a technique that can assess the likelihood that someone had certain physical characteristics, such as hair or eye color, rather than requiring a DNA match.

In this case, scientists used it to deduce that the sailor probably had red hair and blue eyes, narrowing the list of 645 men lost when the ship sank. They found a living relative and the identity of the sailor: Thomas Welsby Clark.

Australian scientists see the tool as having potential for unlocking thousands of long-standing unsolved missing persons cases and identifying hundreds of unidentified remains.

But human rights groups have expressed serious concern that DNA phenotyping, which is primarily used by police forces around the world, could lead to racial profiling. Those concerns extend to Australia, where Indigenous people are being arrested and imprisoned at disproportionately high rates.

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