The repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province returns tomorrow, Monday, to the news with the visit to China, for the first time in almost 20 years, of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
This six-day visit will be closely monitored. Bachelet will travel to Urumqi and Kasgar, Xinjiang, and Canton, southern China.
Bachelet, Chile’s former president, will meet “a number of high-ranking officials at the national and local levels,” her office said on Friday.
He will also “meet with civil society organizations, business representatives and academics, and give a lecture to the students of the University of Canton.”
But hopes for an in-depth international inquiry into what the United States and other countries have called a “genocide” in Xinjiang have given way to concerns from human rights groups who fear the ruling Communist Party could use the visit. this as atonement.
They accuse Beijing of implementing a systematic crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups in the region, such as the Kazakhs, from 2017. They say the Chinese regime has locked up at least one million people in reform camps.
Beijing disputes that number, saying it is a “vocational training center” aimed at combating radical nationalism following attacks on Uighurs.
Fear of retaliation
China has called the genocide a “lie of the century”, arguing that its policies have made it possible to combat extremism and improve the living conditions of its people.
Bachelet will meet with the foreign ambassadors online Monday before heading to Xinjiang on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing.
The visit is the first of its kind since 2005, a time when Beijing was trying to smooth its global image in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics.
UN officials have been negotiating with the Chinese government since 2018 to ensure “free and substantial access” to Xinjiang.
But human rights defenders fear that the trip, which was secured in March, could turn into a filming during which critical questions will not be asked.
According to academics and Uighurs abroad, Xinjiang authorities appear to have abandoned austerity measures in recent years to refocus on the region’s economic development.
“There is no longer much visible evidence of repression,” Peter Irwin of the Uyghur Human Rights Project told AFP.
Human rights groups have warned that continued state surveillance and fear of retaliation will prevent Uighurs on the ground from speaking freely to the United Nations group.
“We fear that the visit will be used by the Chinese government to wash away the serious violations committed in Xinjiang,” warned Maya Wang, a China-based researcher at the Human Rights Watch.
Michelle Bachelet was also criticized for not being more honest with Xinjiang.
The United States warned on Friday that “Ms. Bachelet’s persistent silence over the indisputable evidence of atrocities committed in Xinjiang” is “deeply disturbing.”
Her reluctance to criticize may be an indication of Beijing’s strong influence at the United Nations, which places officials “under a lot of restrictions,” Irwin said. “If it was any other government in the world, the investigation would have been done.”
Unlike in other areas, such as Russia annexed by Crimea, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has not used its mandate to monitor Xinjiang and has no office in China.
For Maya Wang, the visit is “the last chance for Ms. Bachelet to save her reputation in China.”
The delay in publishing the Bachelet’s report on Xinjiang – originally scheduled for last September – has caused some NGOs to resent it.
A UNHCR spokeswoman said on Tuesday that the report would not be released before her trip and that no date had been set for its release.