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UN rights chief set for agreed China visit, including Xinjiang, in May

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(TibetanReview.net, Mar09’22) – The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has told the world body’s apex rights body at its 49th regular session Mar 8 that she will visit China, including with a trip to Xinjiang, after reaching an agreement with Beijing. There is no suggestion yet, however, that she will visit Tibet or Inner Mongolia, two other territories under Chinese rule where there have been serious allegations of right abuses especially targeting the ethnic, religious, cultural, and linguistic identity of the local populations in recent years.

The visit, if it materializes, will be the first to China by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights since Louise Arbour in 2005, noted Reuters Mar 8. All her successors had repeatedly sought a visit but were never allowed by the Chinese government which at the same time kept on insisting that those who talk about the human rights situation in the country should visit it first and were welcome to do so.

“I am pleased to announce that we have recently reached an agreement with the government of China for a visit,” the scmp.com Mar 8 quoted Bachelet as saying in a video address to the UN’s Human Rights Council, adding that the trip will likely take place in May.

“The government has also accepted the visit of an advanced [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] team to prepare [for] my stay in China, including a visit to Xinjiang and other places. This team will depart for China next month,” Bachelet has said.

While it is not clear what exact agreement has been reached, Beijing had earlier insisted that any visit be ‘friendly’ in nature, and certainly not an investigation.

“I can confirm that both the advanced team and the high commissioner will go or are due to go to Xinjiang, and obviously visit Beijing and other locations,” the AFP Mar 8 quoted Bachelet’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Throssell, as saying.

Mass detention of Uighur Muslims in China. (Photo courtesy: The Guardian)

She has said negotiations had produced “an agreement on the parameters that respect our methodology”, including “unfettered access to a broad range of actors, including civil society”.

The likelihood of the visit taking place only in May also probably means that China has bought time until then to put off the long-delayed release of the report from Bachelet’s office on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. China already made sure that the report was not released before or during the Beijing Winter Olympics, which was held in Feb 2022. Global human rights bodies as well as Uyghur activists have long clamoured for the release of the report, which was known to be ready in Aug 2021.

“The release of the report without further delay is essential – to send a message to victims and perpetrators alike that no state, no matter how powerful, is above international law or the robust independent scrutiny of your office,” said a collective of 192 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in an open letter on Mar 8.

Meanwhile Bachelet has also told the UN Human Rights Council, “Preparations will have to take into account Covid-19 regulations.”

Covid-19 regulations have been a handy tool used by the Chinese government to ban Tibetans from holding religious gatherings in their Covid-free homeland ahead of the upcoming Tibetan Uprising Day on Mar 10, despite the fact that millions of Chinese were actually encouraged to visit the region to boost its tourism revenue and propaganda publicity.

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