UN team arrives in China ahead of rights commissioner's visit

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UN team arrives in China ahead of rights commissioner's visit

A United Nations team is in China ahead of a visit to Xinjiang in preparation for the human rights commissioner's long sought inspection expected next month.

The delegation was quarantining in Guangzhou before heading to Xinjiang, according to the South China Morning Post. The five-member team was there at the invitation of the Chinese government, said Liz Throssell, UN human rights spokesperson.

Since 2018, the UN office of the human rights commissioner OHRC has been negotiating with the Chinese government to visit Xinjiang with unfettered access and the freedom to interview civil society groups without supervision.

In March, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said that the OHRC had reached an agreement with the Chinese government to visit in May. Since 2005, there has been no human rights commissioner in China. At the time Throssell said both the advance team and Bachelet will go or are due to go to Xinjiang, and obviously visit Beijing and other places, the UN team has arrived on Monday. A spokesman for China's ministry of foreign affairs, Wang Wenbin, confirmed that the UN team arrived on Monday.

He said that the purpose of the visit of the high commissioner for human rights is to promote exchanges and cooperation between the two sides. We have always opposed the use of this matter for political manipulation. Reports earlier this year that Beijing had insisted it not be published before the Winter Olympics in February have been criticised by the OHRC for not publishing a long-delayed report on the rights situation in Xinjiang.

Under the rule of President Xi Jinping, Chinese authorities in the far western region have been running a campaign of mass detention, re-education and religious and cultural oppression of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims since 2017. They have also been accused of being involved in forced labour programmes and forced sterilisation of women. The policies are labelled as crimes against humanity or genocide, according to rights groups and foreign governments.

China's Communist Party government rejects all accusations of mistreatment and wrongdoing, and says the policies are part of anti-terror and anti-poverty campaigns. It initially denied the existence of the detention centres, where at least one million people have been detained. They claimed they were vocational training centres. The authorities try to block media access and refuse requests for international bodies like the UN to visit, which is a result of the strict control of the region.

Since the Xi took power in 2012, Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on civil society, tightening restrictions on speech and detaining hundreds of activists and lawyers.

On Tuesday, the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention ruled China was arbitrarily detaining anti-corruption activist Zhang Baocheng.

The working group said it had not seen any information that would reasonably implicate Zhang in specific violent or criminal acts, but Zhang was accused of promoting terrorism. The prosecution's main evidence against him during the trial was his tweets criticising the camps in Xinjiang, it said.

The working group made up of five independent experts who do not speak on behalf of the UN and called on China to release Mr Zhang immediately, and expressed concern that this indicates a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in more than 1,000 cases.