UN counter-terror tsar visits Xinjiang where Uighurs held in huge numbers

The Guardian, 14 June 2019

By Agency France Press  The UN’s counter-terrorism tsar is on a visit this week to China’s Xinjiangregion, where Beijing insists the estimated 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims it is detaining constitute a potential terrorist threat.

Vladimir Voronkov, the under-secretary general for counter-terrorism, is the highest level UN official to visit Xinjiang, which activists have described as an open-air prison where people are deprived of religious freedom.

The UN spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed that Voronkov, a Russian diplomat, was on an official visit to China but did not provide details of his itinerary.

Haq stressed that the UN office worked to ensure that counter-terror measures respect human rights.

Beijing argues that internment camps in Xinjiang are “vocational training centres” to steer people away from extremism and reintegrate them, in a region plagued by violence blamed on Uighur separatists or Islamists.

Voronkov’s visit to Xinjiang, first reported by Foreign Policy magazine, drew sharp criticism from rights activists.

“The UN allowing its counterterrorism chief to go to Xinjiang risks confirming China’s false narrative that this is a counterterrorism issue, not a question of massive human rights abuses,” said Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch.

The UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, asked Beijing in December for permission to carry out a fact-finding mission in Xinjiang but has been kept waiting. Earlier on Thursday, China’s new ambassador to the United Nationsin Geneva, Chen Xu, said the UN high commissioner for human rights would pay a visit when “we can find a time which is convenient to both sides”.

China has insisted that the fate of the Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims detained – estimated at 1 million by the UN – is an internal matter.

At the request of the United States and other western countries, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres in May raised the plight of the Uighurs during his visit to China.

Guterres told the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, that “human rights must be fully respected in the fight against terrorism”, according to the UN.