October 4, 2022
Your Monday Briefing: A ‘Toothless’ Trip to Xinjiang

Good morning. We’re covering the U.N. human rights chief’s trip to China, India’s expanded protections for sex workers and Ukraine’s offensive in Kherson.

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

Michelle Bachelet said that her visit “was not an investigation,” and that she had raised questions about China’s application of “counterterrorism and de-radicalization measures” when she spoke by video with Xi Jinping, China’s leader.

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

Rights groups and overseas Uyghurs sharply condemned her remarks. Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, called for “a credible investigation in the face of mountains of evidence of atrocity crimes, not another toothless dialogue.”

Analysis: China’s increasing global sway has translated into growing influence within the U.N. Critics described Bachelet’s trip as the latest example of China’s success in co-opting multinational bodies, including the W.H.O., which endorsed parts of Beijing’s narrative over the pandemic’s origins.

Propaganda: Authorities went to great lengths to frame the narrative around her visit, the first from a high commissioner for human rights since 2005. State media misquoted Bachelet as praising Beijing for “protecting human rights,” while officials threatened the families of Uyghurs who live abroad and had called for investigations.

Business: Companies that source cotton from Xinjiang are pushing for visibility into operations to assess widespread accusations of forced labor.


Sex work is legal in India, but practitioners often endure marginalization, police harassment and abuse. Sometimes, when police look for victims of sex trafficking, they detain prostitutes who have not committed crimes.

Stepping in after legislative efforts failed, the country’s Supreme Court urged police to employ a more nuanced and humane approach, identifying two categories: voluntarily employed consenting adults; and minors, trafficking victims and those eager to leave the industry.

For consenting adults, the court said, the police must refrain from arrests and other forms of harassment, and should not separate sex workers from their children. “The attitude of the police to sex workers is 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 café in a trendy neighborhood outside of Manila, is staffed primarily by the relatives of people killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

“We tell customers about our life, and how this place serves as a place of healing for us,” Sharon Angeles, the head barista said. “We also tell them, if they care to listen, why Duterte’s drug war is a war on the poor, and not on drugs.”

In 1942, a lifeless man washed up on the shores of Christmas Island. In the 1990s, the Royal Australian Navy began to suspect that he was a sailor on a warship that sank during World War II. But when researchers exhumed his remains in 2006, his DNA yielded no match with 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, like hair or eye color, instead of 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 sailor’s identity: Thomas Welsby Clark.

Australian scientists see the tool as potentially unlocking thousands of long-term unsolved missing-persons cases and identifying hundreds of unidentified remains.

But human rights organizations have raised serious concerns that DNA phenotyping, which is primarily used by police departments around the world, could lead to racial profiling. Those concerns extend to Australia, where Indigenous people are arrested and jailed at disproportionately high rates.

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