UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet arrived in China yesterday, the first trip by a holder of the office since 2005 amid concerns that it could lead to an endorsement rather than scrutiny of China’s human rights record.
During the six-day trip, Bachelet plans to visit Xinjiang, where the UN High Commissioner’s office last year said that it believes the mostly Muslim Uighurs have been unlawfully detained, mistreated and forced to work.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it welcomes her, but rejects “political manipulation” when asked by reporters if she could visit the detention centers, re-education camps and prisons where rights groups say Uighurs have been mistreated.
China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uighurs.
“The purpose of the private visit is to enhance exchanges and cooperation between both sides, and promote the international cause of human rights,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) told a news conference yesterday.
He said that Bachelet’s visit would be conducted in a “closed loop,” referring to a way of isolating people within a “bubble” to prevent COVID-19 from potentially spreading.
That means Bachelet would not be able to have free and spontaneous in-person meetings with anyone who has not been prearranged by China to be brought inside the “bubble.”
Wang also said that the media would not be traveling with Bachelet because of the pandemic.
The trip has been long in the making after Bachelet in 2018 said that she wanted unfettered access to Xinjiang. China said the visit should not be based on a presumption of guilt.
The World Uyghur Congress urged Bachelet in a letter to ensure that her team can move freely, access all detention facilities and have unsupervised contact with Uighurs.
“We are concerned the trip might do more harm than good. China could use it for propaganda purposes,” World Uyghur Congress spokesperson Zumretay Arkin said.
International scrutiny of the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang heightened in 2018 after the UN said that 1 million Uighurs 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” check themselves in to learn about law, Chinese-language and vocational skills.
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