After visit to China, UN rights chief says she called for counter-terrorism review

BEIJING (Reuters) – UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, whose rare visit to China has been criticized by rights groups and Western countries, said she had urged Beijing to review its counter-terrorism policies to ensure that they complied with international human rights standards.

Bachelet however reiterated that his six-day trip, which ended on Saturday and included a visit to the western region of Xinjiang, was not a survey of Chinese human rights policies, but an opportunity to engage with the government.

Bachelet began his trip to China, the first by a United Nations high commissioner for human rights in 17 years, in the southern city of Guangzhou on Monday before heading to Xinjiang.

His office said last year it believed Uyghurs in Xinjiang had been illegally detained, abused and forced to work.

“I have raised questions and concerns regarding the application of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures in broad application, in particular the impact on the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly minorities Muslim,” she said during an online press briefing on Saturday.

China denies all accusations of abuse in Xinjiang.

Bachelet’s access has been limited as China has arranged for her to travel in a “closed loop” – isolating people in a virtual bubble to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – without foreign press.

Rights groups and Western countries fear China could use his trip as an endorsement of its rights record. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday it was “a mistake to accept a visit under these circumstances.”

China initially denied the existence of detention camps in Xinjiang, but in 2018 said it had set up “vocational training centers” needed to fight what it called terrorism, separatism and of religious radicalism in the region.

Bachelet said he raised with the Chinese government the lack of independent judicial oversight over the operation of the centers and allegations of the use of force, mistreatment and severe restrictions on religious practice.

In 2019, Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir said all trainees had “graduated”.

At the press conference, Bachelet also described as “deeply disturbing” the detention in Hong Kong of activists, lawyers and journalists.

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