GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations human rights chief should document her own findings on the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang even without China’s blessing for a visit, activists and Western diplomats say, amid signs that her patience may be running out.
Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Monday that she hoped to agree on terms for a long-sought visit to China this year to look into allegations of mass detention, torture and forced labour.
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, describing camps in its far west as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.
Canada led a record 45 countries, including the United States, in urging China on Tuesday to allow Bachelet immediate access to Xinjiang for a first-hand assessment.
China rejected the statement as interference driven by “political motives”. It said it welcomed a visit by Bachelet, but that it should be focused on “promoting exchanges and cooperation rather than an investigation based on so-called presumption of guilt”.
Bachelet later dropped a hint to the Human Rights Council that she has other options, while still pursuing negotiations with China on a visit that have dragged on since September 2018.
“In the meantime, the office continues to deepen its analysis and assessment of the alleged patterns of human rights violations in Xinjiang,” she said on Tuesday.
Bachelet has the authority to collect testimonies of abuses remotely, without a mandate from the council or invitation from the country concerned. She and a predecessor initiated such probes on killings by security forces in Venezuela, the disputed Kashmir territory and southeastern Turkey.
“There is no formal U.N. assessment of what is happening in Xinjiang and we need that given Beijing’s denial,” Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, told reporters last week.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International this year documented what they said could constitute crimes against humanity being committed in Xinjiang.
Sarah Brooks, China expert at the International Service for Human Rights, said: “All that remains is for High Commissioner Bachelet to step up – China’s cooperation must not be misinterpreted as a precondition to doing her job.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Alex Richardson)