US tells China to give UN access to Xinjiang to probe Uighur treatment

A photo from Sept 4, 2018, showing a Chinese police officer near a vocational education centre in in Xinjiang. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (REUTERS) - The United States called on China on Wednesday (March 9) to ensure that a planned visit by UN human rights chief Michele Bachelet includes "unhindered and unsupervised access" to all areas of the Xinjiang region to investigate alleged abuses of Uighurs.

Ms Bachelet announced on Tuesday that she had reached an agreement with China for a long-sought visit, foreseen in May, including a stop in Xinjiang. It would be the first visit to China by a UN high commissioner for human rights since 2005.

Ms Sheba Crocker, US Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said that Ms Bachelet must be able to hold private meetings with a range of Uighurs and groups in Xinjiang, and have access to places where "atrocities" and abuses including forced labour have been reported.

"Any access limitations imposed on the High Commissioner or her office, or interference with their activities or reporting, would severely undermine the credibility of her visit and support the propaganda that denies the abuses occurring in Xinjiang," she said.

Activists say some one million Uighurs have been held in mass detention in the remote western region.

China rejects accusations of abuse, describing the camps as vocational centres designed to combat extremism and in late 2019, it said all people in the camps had "graduated".

Ms Crocker also urged Ms Bachelet to release "the existing, long-anticipated" report by her office on alleged violations in Xinjiang without further delay.

Ms Bachelet, in her speech to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, made no reference to the report, for which her office began gathering evidence and testimony in late 2018.

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