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Germany says U.N. rights chief's trip to China fell short of expectation

A trip by U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet's to China fell short of expectation to provide a transparent clarification of human rights violation allegations in the region of Xinjiang, Germany's foreign ministry said on Monday.

"Due to the Chinese restrictions, free, unhindered access to people and places was not possible during the trip. This ruled out an independent assessment of the situation on site," a spokesperson for the ministry said in a statement.

Still, Germany continues to expect that Bachelet will publish the announced report on the human rights situation in Xinjiang as soon as possible, the spokesperson added.

Bachelet on Saturday said contrary to what had been reported, her trip to the region was not an investigation.

She said she was however unable to determine the scale of a Xinjiang reeducation and incarceration program directed at ethnic Uyghurs, saying high-profile official visits were not conducive to “discreet work of an investigative nature.”

Top German and British diplomats have called for an investigation into the fresh reports saying human rights are a fundamental part of the international order.

In a virtual meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said there were “shocking reports and new evidence of very serious human rights violations in Xinjiang” and called for a transparent investigation.

She said, “Human rights are a fundamental part of the international order and Germany is committed to protecting them worldwide.”

But Beijing has repeatedly denied the accusations of committing cultural genocide against Muslim Uyghur residents in Xinjiang, where up to an estimated 2 million residents have been incarcerated, according to rights researchers.

Bachelet said she encouraged Beijing to review its “counterterrorism” policies to ensure that they complied with international human rights standards and that they were not applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory way. “I have heard you,” she said, regarding those who made appeals to her about specific human rights cases.

Bachelet is the first U.N. human rights chief to visit China since 2005, and her trip was the result of years of negotiation. Activists were widely disappointed that she did not criticize China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang more forcefully or manage to ferret out new details about the situation on the ground.

She started her China trip, the first by a UN Human Rights High Commissioner in 17 years, on Monday in the southern city of Guangzhou before heading to Xinjiang.

The UN human rights chief's access was limited as China arranged for her to travel in a "closed loop"  isolating people within a virtual bubble to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with no foreign press.