UN human rights chief arrives in China for historic visit

During the six-day trip, Ms Bachelet will travel to Xinjiang, where the High Commissioner’s office said last year it believed Ughurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, were illegally detained, abused and forced to work.

“The purpose of his visit is really to focus on a dialogue with the Chinese authorities on a range of national, regional and global human rights issues,” Bachelet’s office said earlier this week.

China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of the Ughurs.

The May 23-28 trip has been long planned after Bachelet said in 2018 that she wanted unfettered access to Xinjiang. China said the visit should not be based on the presumption of guilt. The degree of access that will be granted Bachelet is unclear.

Rights groups are concerned that if Bachelet does not press China hard enough, his post-trip report may not paint the full picture and be used by Beijing to justify its actions in Xinjiang.

In a letter, the World Ughur Congress urged Bachelet to ensure that his team can move freely, access all detention centers and have unsupervised contact with Ughurs.

“We are concerned that the trip could do more harm than good. China could use it for propaganda purposes,” Congress spokesman Zumretay Arkin told Reuters.

International scrutiny of the government’s actions in Xinjiang intensified in 2018 after the United Nations said one million Ughurs were being held in “massive internment camps” set up for political indoctrination.

China initially denied the existence of any camps, then later admitted it had set up ‘vocational training centers’ with dormitories where people can ‘voluntarily’ register to learn the law , Chinese language and professional skills.

The ruling atheist Communist Party has said the centers are needed to stem the “Three Forces” of terrorism, separatism and religious radicalism in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia on China’s northwest border.

Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir said in 2019 that all trainees had “graduated”.

The United States has sanctioned Chinese officials accused of rights abuses in Xinjiang in 2020 and 2021 and imposed bans on goods produced in Xinjiang over fears of forced labor.

Beijing has denied Western allegations of forced labor, genocide and human rights abuses and has repeatedly warned other countries not to interfere in its internal affairs.

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