Xinjiang. UN team in China ahead of visit by human rights chief | China

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A United Nations team is in China ahead of a visit to Xinjiang, in preparation for the long-awaited inspection by the human rights commissioner scheduled for next month.

The delegation was in quarantine in Guangzhou, the South China Morning Post reported, before heading to Xinjiang. The five-member team was there “at the invitation of the [Chinese] government,” said Liz Throssell, United Nations human rights spokesperson, the Post reported.

The UN Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (OHRC) has been negotiating with the Chinese government since 2018 to travel to Xinjiang with ‘free and meaningful access’ and the freedom to interview civil society groups without supervision .

In March, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the OHRC had “reached an agreement” with the Chinese government for a visit in May. No human rights commissioner has visited China since 2005. At the time, Throssell said the forward team and Bachelet “will or should go to Xinjiang, and obviously visit Beijing and other locations”.

She said the negotiations resulted in “agreement on parameters that respect our methodology”, including “unfettered access to a wide range of actors, including civil society”.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, confirmed that the UN team arrived on Monday.

“What I want to tell you is that the purpose of the visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is to promote exchanges and cooperation between the two parties,” he said. “We have always opposed the use of this material for political manipulation.”

The OHRC has been criticized for not yet released a long-delayed report on the rights situation in Xinjiangamid reports earlier this year that Beijing had insisted it not be released until the Winter Olympics in February.

Under the rule of President Xi Jinping, Chinese authorities in the far west have been waging a campaign of mass detention, re-education, and religious and cultural oppression of Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslims since 2017. They have also been accused of carrying out programs of forced labor and forced sterilization of women. Rights groups and foreign governments have called these policies crimes against humanity or genocide.

The Chinese Communist Party government denies all accusations of mistreatment and wrongdoing, and says these policies are part of anti-terrorism and anti-poverty campaigns. He initially denied the existence of the detention centers, where at least a million people were held. Later, he claimed that these were vocational training centers. Authorities strictly control the area, including trying to block media access and refusing visit requests from international bodies like the UN.

Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on civil society since Xi came to power in 2012, tightening restrictions on free speech and detaining hundreds of activists and lawyers.

On Tuesday, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that China was “arbitrarily detaining” anti-corruption activist Zhang Baocheng.

Zhang was accused of “promoting terrorism,” but the task force said it had seen no information that could reasonably implicate Zhang in specific violent or criminal acts. He said the prosecution’s main evidence against him in the trial was his tweets criticizing the Xinjiang camps.

The task force – made up of five independent experts who do not speak on behalf of the UN and whose opinions are not binding – called on China to “release Mr. Zhang immediately”. He demanded that Beijing grant him compensation and guarantee a “full and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty”.

The task force pointed out that in its 30 years of existence, it had found that China violated its international rights obligations in more than 1,000 cases, expressing concern that this “indicates a systemic problem of arbitrary detention” in the country.

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