UN rights chief admits she wasn’t allowed to speak to a single current Uyghur detainee during Xinjiang visit

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United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has said that she was not allowed to speak to any of the Uyghur detainees lodged in Xinjiang when she visited the northwest region in China last month.

She added that her visit remained under Beijing administration’s supervision and that she was not allowed to independently engage with the detained people in Xinjiang.

"There were limitations, especially given the prevailing Covid restrictions. I was accompanied by government officials throughout the visit to Xinjiang," Ms Bachelet said in Geneva on Wednesday.

The top UN official was talking at the 50th Human Rights Council meeting and said that she could not move freely in the western Chinese territory.

China has been accused of committing human rights abuses such as arbitrary detention, forced sterlisation, organ harvesting, political indoctrination and physical torture against minorities from the Uyghur Muslim community and other religious minorities.

The White House has called China’s actions in Xinjiang as “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity”.

Beijing has denied all accusations of abuse in Xinjiang.

She added that her office has been gathering information on the activities in China’s western region.

"And as I mentioned already in my statement on Monday, my office has been collecting information remotely for some time. I will now update the assessment of the situation of human rights in Xinjiang, and it will be shared with the government for factual comments before publication," Ms Bachelet said.

She clarified that her visit to China was not an investigation but “a visit to engage with the government of China to promote the respect and protection of human rights and to explore ways from my office to assist the government to fulfil its obligation under international human rights law".

On Monday, Ms Bachelet announced that she will not be running for the second term for personal reasons, and added that the decision was not influenced by her visit to China.

The top human rights official came under fire from activists after her visit to China, the first such in years, as more information on Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang was expected.

Ms Bachelet’s China trip was an “unmitigated disaster”, said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. She added that the UN human rights chief should not have used China’s term "VETCs", for vocational education and training centres, to describe mass detention facilities set up by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang.

The US has slammed the conditions imposed by China on the critical visit and said that it did not allow a complete and independent assessment of the environment.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s office said that they were “troubled by reports that residents of Xinjiang were warned not to complain or speak openly about conditions in the region, that no insight was provided into the whereabouts of hundreds of missing Uyghurs and conditions for over a million individuals in detention.”

“The High Commissioner should have been allowed confidential meetings with family members of Uyghur and other ethnic minority diaspora communities in Xinjiang who are not in detention facilities but are forbidden from traveling out of the region,” the US secretary of state said in a statement.

They added that Ms Bachelet was not allowed to meet individuals who were “part of the Xinjiang labour transfer program and have been sent to other provinces across China”.

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