UN in talks with China over ‘no restrictions’ visit to Xinjiang

UN in talks with China over 'no restrictions' visit to Xinjiang

Mission to check out treatment of Uighur minority is backed by Beijing, says secretary-general António Guterres

A member of Turkey’s Uighur community during a protest in Istanbul over China’s policies in Xinjiang.
A member of Turkey’s Uighur community during a protest in Istanbul over China’s policies in Xinjiang. Photograph: Emrah Gürel/AP
Sun 28 Mar 2021 19.52 EDT

The UN has begun negotiations with Beijing for a visit “without restrictions” to Xinjiang to see how the Uighur minority is being treated, secretary-general António Guterres said in an interview broadcast.

At least one million Uighurs and people from other mostly Muslim groups have been held in camps in the north-western region, according to US and Australian rights groups, which accuse Chinese authorities of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labor.


China has repeatedly bridled at criticism of its treatment of the group.

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The UN’s high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet said in February that reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced labor in Xinjiang necessitated a thorough and independent assessment.

Bachelet said talks to organise a visit had begun but no agreement has yet been reached.

“A serious negotiation is at the present moment taking place between the office of the (UN human rights) commissioner and the Chinese authorities,” Guterres told Canada’s CBC television network on Sunday.

“I hope that they will reach an agreement soon” to allow a visit “without restrictions or limitations”, he added.

Guterres said the Chinese had repeatedly affirmed to him “that they want that mission to take place”.

Activists have expressed scepticism about the prospects for a meaningful visit with unfettered access in China.

On Saturday, Beijing announced sanctions against two Americans, a Canadian and a rights advocacy body that had criticised its treatment of the Uighurs, which US officials have said constitutes genocide.

Guterres said he was also following “with concern” the fate of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who are being held prisoner in China on charges of espionage.

Their detention, which Ottawa has denounced as “arbitrary,” is widely viewed in the west as a reprisal for the arrest and continued detention in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, an executive of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

“Our position has been very clear,” Guterres told CBC: “that in all situations of this kind, there must be due process and full respect for the human rights of the people involved.”