The UN’s counterterrorism czar was this week visiting China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing insists 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims are detained because of a terrorism threat, UN sources and rights activists said on Thursday.
UN Counter-Terrorism Office Undersecretary Vladimir Voronkov is the highest-level UN official to visit Xinjiang, which activists have described as an open-air prison deprived of religious freedom.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed that Voronkov was on an official visit to China, but did not provide details of his itinerary.
The UN agency works to ensure that measures used to fight terror respect human rights, Haq added.
Beijing has argued that internment camps in Xinjiang are “vocational training centers” to steer people away from extremism.
Voronkov’s visit to Xinjiang, first reported by Foreign Policy magazine, drew sharp criticism from rights activists.
“The UN allowing its counterterrorism chief to go to Xinjiang risks confirming China’s false narrative that this is a counterterrorism issue, not a question of massive human rights abuses,” Human Rights Watch UN director Louis Charbonneau told reporters.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in December last year asked Beijing for permission to carry out a fact-finding mission in Xinjiang, but has been left waiting.
Earlier on Thursday, China’s new ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Chen Xu (陳旭), said that the UN high commissioner for human rights would pay a visit when “we can find a time which is convenient to both sides.”
China has insisted that the fate of the estimated 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Muslims is an internal matter.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, at the request of the US and other Western countries, last month raised the plight of the Uighurs in a visit to China.
The UN said that Guterres told Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi (王毅) that “human rights must be fully respected in the fight against terrorism.”
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