GENEVA: UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet announced on Tuesday (Mar 8) that she has reached an agreement with China for a visit, "foreseen" in May, and said she had already raised with Beijing cases of arrest and detention of activists.
Her visit would include a stop in the remote western region of Xinjiang, where activists say about 1 million Uyghurs have been held in mass detention, she told the Human Rights Council.
China rejects accusations of abuse, describing the camps as vocational centres designed to combat extremism, and in late 2019 it said all people in the camps had "graduated".
Bachelet, speaking by video message to the Geneva forum, made no reference to her long-awaited report on alleged abuses against Uyghurs. Her office began gathering evidence about 3.5 years ago and in December, her spokesperson had promised its release within weeks.
Referring to China, Bachelet voiced concern about the treatment of people who speak up on human rights issues that are deemed critical of Chinese government policies. Some had faced house arrest or prison terms based on criminal charges stemming from their activities, she said.
"My office has raised a number of such cases with the government and encourage the authorities to take steps to ensure that freedom of expression and opinion are fully respected and protected," Bachelet added, giving no details.
An advance team from her office would leave in April to prepare for her visit - the first by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights since Louise Arbour went to China in 2005 - she said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakci were among speakers at the council last week who voiced concern about the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Blinken said at the time: "In China, the government continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other minority groups, and we urge the High Commissioner to release without delay her report on the situation there."
A Western diplomat in Geneva told Reuters before Bachelet's speech: "We very much hope Michelle Bachelet will reach into the deep freezer in her office and remove from it this report …
"It is long past time that Michelle Bachelet provides this report, we all know what is happening in Xinjiang. We understand the report is written," he said.