US tells China: Give UN rights chief wide access in Xinjiang

FILE - Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks to the media about the Tigray region of Ethiopia during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 3, 2021. The United States wants China’s government to give “unhindered and unsupervised access” to the U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet when she visits China and its western Xinjiang region in May, Ambassador Sheba Crocker, the U.S. permanent representative to U.N. institutions in Geneva, said Wednesday March 9, 2022. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP, File)
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Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — The United States called on China’s government Wednesday to grant “unhindered and unsupervised access” to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, when she visits China and its western Xinjiang region in May.

Ambassador Sheba Crocker, the U.S. permanent representative to U.N. institutions in Geneva, said any interference in the work of Bachelet’s team would support “propaganda” that denies alleged rights abuses against members of the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang and others.

Crocker said a credible visit by the U.N. human rights chief and her team should involve access to “the locations where atrocities and human rights violations and abuses” have been reported.

“We call upon the People’s Republic of China to ensure that her visit is accorded unhindered and unsupervised access to all areas of Xinjiang and to private meetings with a diverse range of Uyghur individuals and civil society groups,” Crocker said in a statement.

“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 added.

Crocker, who took up the post in mid-January, also called on Bachelet to release a long-awaited and much delayed report from her office on Xinjiang.

Numerous human rights groups and advocacy organizations have chronicled or spoken out about allegations of rights abuses against Uyghurs and others in the region, but the report from Bachelet’s office would come with the imprimatur of the United Nations.

Diplomats in Geneva have said the report has been ready — or very close to it — for months. Bachelet’s office has not specified when it plans to release the report or whether her visit to China, announced Tuesday, would have any bearing on the timing of its publication.

More than 1 million people have been confined to camps in Xinjiang, according to foreign governments and researchers. Critics of Chinese government policies in the region have decried an alleged crackdown on religious practices, imposition of forced labor and other measures like birth control against minorities — saying some of the measures could qualify as crimes against humanity.

Beijing rejects complaints of abuses and says the camps are for job training to support economic development and combat Islamic radicalism. The government has pressed foreign clothing and shoe brands to reverse decisions to stop using cotton from Xinjiang amid reports of possible forced labor.