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UN rights chief to begin China visit, including to Xinjiang

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The UN rights chief will begin her long-anticipated visit to China on Monday, her office said, including to the Xinjiang region where authorities stand accused of widespread violations.

After years of requesting “meaningful and unfettered” access to China’s far-western Xinjiang region, Michelle Bachelet will finally be heading there next week.

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The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “on Monday begins a six-day official mission to China, at the invitation of the government,” her office said in a statement Friday.

It is the first trip to China by a UN rights chief since 2005 and Bachelet will meet “a number of high-level officials at the national and local levels.”

“The high commissioner will also meet with civil society organizations, business representatives, academics, and deliver a lecture to students at Guangzhou University,” the statement added.

An advance team was sent to China several weeks ago to prepare the visit, and has completed a lengthy quarantine in the country, currently in the grip of fresh COVID-19 outbreaks.

Bachelet, who will not need to quarantine, is not travelling to Beijing due to Covid restrictions, her office said this week.

But she will go to Kashgar and Urumqi in Xinjiang, it said.

She wraps up the mission on May 28 with a press conference at an as-yet undisclosed location and issue a statement.

There have long been calls for Bachelet to visit Xinjiang and to publish her office’s findings on the situation there.

The US government and lawmakers in a number of other Western countries have labelled China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang “genocide” - a charge Beijing vehemently denies.

Rights groups say at least one million mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in “re-education camps” in the region, and face widespread abuses, including forced sterilization and forced labor.

China says it is running vocational training centers in the region designed to counter extremism.

In March, the UN rights office announced an agreement had finally been reached on arranging a visit, although it still remains unclear when Bachelet’s team will release its long-delayed report on the situation.

Rights groups, diplomats and others have voiced concern Beijing will manipulate her visit and have stepped up demands for the report’s publication.

But a spokeswoman for Bachelet said Tuesday it would not be released before her trip, and that there was no clear timing for making it public.

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