The United Nations is in serious negotiations with Beijing for a visit “without restrictions” to Xinjiang to see how the Muslim Uighur minority is being treated, secretary-general Antonio Guterres said in an interview broadcast in Canada on Sunday.
At least one million Uighurs and people from other mostly Muslim groups have been held in camps in the northwestern region of China, according to US and Australian rights groups, which accuse Chinese authorities of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour, says IBT.
China has repeatedly denied all Western accusations.
“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.
“I hope they will reach an agreement soon to allow a visit without restrictions or limitations.”
Guterres said the Chinese had repeatedly affirmed to him “that they want that mission to take place”.
US officials have said China’s treatment of the Uighurs constitutes genocide, and in response on Saturday, Beijing announced targeted sanctions against two American religious-rights officials and a Canadian lawmaker who had denounced Beijing’s treatment of minorities.
Guterres said he was also following “with concern” the fate of two other 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.”
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last month that reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced labour in Xinjiang necessitated a thorough and independent assessment.
Activists have expressed scepticism about the prospects for a meaningful visit with unfettered access in China, saying Beijing could not permit this to happen.