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Uyghurs in focus as UN human rights chief visits China

Michelle Bachelet
Michelle Bachelet has been urged by human rights campaigners to challenge China over their treatment of Uyghur minorities. Keystone / Martial Trezzini

Michelle Bachelet will become the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit China since 2005 during a six-day official mission that starts on May 23.

Bachelet will visit Guangzhou, Kashgar and Urumqi, the capital city of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, it was announced by the Geneva-based Commissioner’s office on Friday.

The mission has special significance as human rights campaigners accuse China of widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups, including the torture, forced labour and detention of one million people in internment camps.

China says the camps are re-education and training facilities and denies any abuse, saying it is fighting religious extremism.

Last year, Switzerland was among 40 countries that put pressure on Beijing to allow Bachelet “meaningful and unfettered” access to Xinjiang.

However, it is not known what type of access the Chinese authorities will grant to Bachelet or whether she will be able to freely speak to Uyghur people.

The NGO Human Rights Watch is wary of Chinese orchestration after Beijing insisted that the mission should constitute nothing more than a “friendly visit”.

“The Chinese government is committing human rights violations on a scope and scale unimaginable since the last time a high commissioner visited in 2005, partly because there is no fear of accountability,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, stated on Friday. “The high commissioner needs to work to end, not enable, that perception.”

SWI’s Imogen Foulkes recently asked experts during a podcast what could be expected from Bachelet’s trip.

Bachelet is due to meet with civil society organisations, business representatives and academics and deliver a lecture to students at Guangzhou University.

A five-person United Nations team has been in China since April 25 to prepare for the mission. They have visited Guangzhou and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

At the end of her mission, Bachelet will issue a statement and is scheduled to hold a press conference on May 28.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR