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U.N. human rights chief visits PRC amid allegations of Xinjiang abuses

The Associated Press

Accusations of human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region dominated a visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by the United Nations’ top rights official.

Michelle Bachelet’s trip was the first to the PRC by a U.N. high commissioner for human rights since 2005, and rights groups fear it could whitewash abuses by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

An estimated 1 million members of Uyghur, Kazakh and other Muslim minorities have been locked up in what has been described as the CCP’s campaign to obliterate their cultural identities. Chinese officials claim their actions are to restore order and promote ethnic cohesion.

Nations including Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States have declared that Beijing’s abuses against Uyghur and other minorities amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Evidence surfaced in May 2022 that CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping was aware of the internment campaigns and actively supported their continuation and expansion, according to online magazine ChinaFile, published by the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society. A transcript of an internal government speech by Zhao Kezhi, China’s minister of public security, indicates Xi’s knowledge of so-called counter-violent extremism and reeducation campaigns and his role in funding and staffing the detention facilities, ChinaFile reported May 24, 2022.

A nonprofit, human rights organization authorized by the U.S. Congress has compiled thousands of speeches, images and documents, leaked from confidential internal Chinese police networks and named the Xinjiang Police Files, that it contends prove the “prison-like nature of re-education camps” and show Xi’s and other “top Chinese leaders’ direct involvement in the mass internment campaign.” The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation published the files, which it says were authenticated by scholars and journalists, online at (Pictured: Guards watch Uyghur inmates at a detention camp in the Xinjiang region in northwestern China in December 2018.)

Bachelet’s six-day visit began in the southern city of Guangzhou and was expected to include stops in the Xinjiang cities of Kashgar and Urumqi in northwestern China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Bachelet would have “extensive exchanges with all sectors.” No journalists traveled with Bachelet, but she will “brief the media on her visit in due course,” Wang said.

It was unclear whether Bachelet would visit the internment camps that the PRC claims are vocational training and education centers, or whether she would meet with people imprisoned for seeking religious, political and cultural freedoms. Ilham Tohti, an economist and winner of the international Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, is among them.

The PRC also is accused of using forced labor and sterilization and of separating children from their parents. Fasting for Ramadan or selling Islamic books is also prohibited, according to the monitoring group The Dui Hua Foundation.

Bachelet, a former president of Chile, planned to speak with high-level national and local officials, civil society organizations, business representatives and academics.

Human rights groups are also demanding information from the PRC about its policies restricting the cultural rights of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Inner Mongolia. And a crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong has led the U.S. and other nations to sanction Chinese officials.

Amnesty International said Bachelet must “address crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations.”

“Michelle Bachelet’s long-delayed visit to Xinjiang is a critical opportunity to address human rights violations in the region, but it will also be a running battle against Chinese government efforts to cover up the truth,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said in a statement. “The U.N. must take steps to mitigate against this and resist being used to support blatant propaganda.”

Bachelet’s trip came ahead of the expected release of her long-awaited report on human rights in Xinjiang. Almost 200 rights groups have urged Bachelet to publish her findings.

FORUM staff contributed to this report.


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