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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a press conference in New York on March 10, 2021. Source: Lev Radin/Sipa USA.
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  • The United Nations says it is holding “serious negotiations” with China for unrestricted access to the Xinjiang region to verify reports of abuse against Muslim Uyghurs
  • U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made the statement in an interview with CBC that was broadcast on Sunday
  • The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said reports of ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced labour necessitated a thorough and independent assessment
  • China’s sensitivity to the criticism was made clear on Saturday when it unveiled targeted sanctions against two American officials and a Canadian lawmaker
  • The Chinese government denies any mistreatment and has said that people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and the Tibetan region enjoy wide-ranging freedoms

WARNINGthis story contains graphic content.

The United Nations says it is holding “serious negotiations” with China for unrestricted access to the Xinjiang region to verify reports of abuse against Muslim Uyghurs.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made the statement in an interview with CBC that was broadcast on Sunday. It follows a declaration last month by the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who said the reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced labour in Xinjiang necessitated a thorough and independent assessment.

Bachelet’s visit “is being negotiated at the present moment between the office of the High Commissioner and the Chinese authorities,” Guterres said.

“And I hope that they will reach an agreement soon and that the human rights commissioner will be able to visit China without restrictions or limitations.”

China’s sensitivity to the criticism was made clear on Saturday when it unveiled targeted sanctions against two American religious-rights officials and a Canadian lawmaker who had denounced Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities.

This criticism has been steadily increasing after the BBC published a report earlier this year, which included a rare testimony from a former prison guard in Xinjiang and first-hand accounts from several now-released detainees.

Tursunay Ziawudun, a Uyghur woman who fled to Kazakhstan before moving to the U.S., spent nine months in detention. She said she was tortured and raped on three occasions, each time by two or three men.

“They had an electric stick, I didn’t know what it was, and it was pushed inside my genital tract, torturing me with an electric shock,” she said.

Another, Sayragul Sauytbay, who worked as a Chinese language teacher at one of the camps, described one incident where a young girl of only 20 or 21 was brought before roughly 100 other detainees to make a forced confession.

“After that, in front of everyone, the police took turns to rape her,” she recounted.

The former guard, who spoke to the BBC on the condition of anonymity, said detainees were made to memorise books to pass loyalty tests. They were then given different colours of clothing depending on how many times they had failed, and would be subject to increasingly severe punishments, including food deprivation and beatings.

The Chinese government denies any mistreatment and has said that people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and the Tibetan region enjoy wide-ranging freedoms.

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