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UN rights chief to visit China ‘shortly’

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The UN rights chief will be arriving in China “shortly” for a long-anticipated visit, including to the Xinjiang region where authorities stand accused of widespread rights abuses, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

After years of requesting “meaningful and unfettered” access to China’s far-western Xinjiang region, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is set to begin her visit before the end of this month, her office said.

“We’ve consistently said that it will be taking place by the end of May. We are approaching the end of May. So it will be happening shortly,” spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters.

An advance team was sent to China several weeks ago to prepare the visit, and has completed a lengthy quarantine in the country, gripped by fresh Covid outbreaks.

Bachelet herself is set to travel to Guangzhou and Xinjiang, but not to Beijing due to the Covid restrictions there, Throssell said, adding that the visit was due to last around a week.

“She will be meeting high-level government officials,” she said, adding that “the purpose of a visit is really… a dialogue with the Chinese government, with the Chinese authorities on a range of domestic, regional and global human rights issues.”

“It’s really hoped that the visit will allow to build further engagement between the UN Human Rights Office and China.”

There have long been calls for Bachelet to visit Xinjiang and to publish her office’s findings on the situation there.

– ‘Genocide’ –

The US government and lawmakers in a number of other Western countries have labelled China’s treatment of the Uygur minority in Xinjiang “genocide” — a charge Beijing vehemently denies.

Rights groups say that at least one million mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in “re-education camps” in the region, and face widespread rights abuses, including forced sterilisation and forced labour.

China says it is running vocational training centres in the region designed to counter extremism.

In March, the UN rights office announced that an agreement had finally been reached towards a visit, although it still remains unclear when Bachelet’s team would release its long-delayed report on the situation.

Rights groups, diplomats and others have recently stepped up their demands for the publication of the report, which sources say has been ready for months.

But Throssell said Tuesday it would not be released before Bachelet’s trip, and that there was no clear timing for when it would be made public.

“As with all the reports, China as the member state concerned will be provided with the report when it is ready, so that it can express its views,” she said.

Bachelet and her team would “be raising issues relating to Xinjiang with the authorities, and of course the report will inform this discussion,” she said.

After that, the document would be “shared with the authorities for their views. So that’s why I don’t have a timeline for when it may be published.”

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