China has agreed to allow United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) Michelle Bachelet to visit Xinjiang in the first half of 2022 after the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, according to an exclusive report in the South China Morning Post newspaper, which cited unnamed sources.
Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating wide-scale abuses against Uighurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang, including mass detention, torture and forced labour.
The United States has accused China of genocide in Xinjiang, and an unofficial and independent UK-based tribunal has ruled that Beijing is indeed guilty of genocide.
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims and has described its policies as necessary to combat religious “extremism”.
China’s foreign ministry, China’s mission to the United Nations in New York, and the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The South China Morning Post cited sources saying that the approval for a visit after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Games, which run February 4 to 20, was granted on the condition the trip should be “friendly” and not framed as an investigation.
It also reported that Beijing is also understood “to have pressed for a delay” in the release of an upcoming UNHCR report on Xinjiang until the Games have wrapped up.
As in 2008, the Olympic Games have again cast a spotlight on China’s human rights record, which critics say has worsened since then, prompting a diplomatic boycott from the United States and other countries.
“No one, especially the world’s leading human rights diplomat, should be fooled by the Chinese government’s efforts to distract attention away from its crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities,” Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, told the Reuters news agency in an emailed statement on Friday.
United Nations experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly from the Uighur and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in camps in Xinjiang in recent years.
The United States and many of its allies, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan and Denmark, have said they will not send official diplomatic delegations to the games in protest against China’s human rights record.