Xinjiang Visit by U.N. Counterterrorism Official Provokes Outcry

Xinjiang Visit by U.N. Counterterrorism Official Provokes Outcry

  • Rights activists say upcoming trip by U.N. diplomat could reinforce Beijing’s line that Uighur activists are terrorists.

Aplanned visit to China’s Xinjiang province this week by a Russian national who serves as the United Nations’ top counterterrorism official has infuriated human rights advocates and some Western governments, who fear Beijing will use the trip as propaganda.

The visit by Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov marks the first high-level visit by a U.N. official to the predominantly Muslim territory since Beijing began forcing an estimated million local members of the Uighur minority into detention camps, according to several U.N.-based diplomats. Voronkov, the undersecretary general for the U.N. Office of Counter-terrorism, will be accompanied by a Chinese public security minister, and critics say the trip will serve to reinforce China’s claim that its actions against the Uighur population in Xinjiang are the result of terrorist threats, not a brutal government crackdown on a minority population.

“It’s handing China a propaganda victory,” said Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch. It “risks confirming China’s false narrative that this is a counterterrorism issue, not a question of massive human rights abuses.”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, confirmed that Voronkov is on an official trip to China, the only permanent member of the council whose country he had yet to visit. But he declined to say whether he would visit Xinjiang.

“The UN Office of Counter-Terrorism is mandated by the General Assembly and provides support to Member States and the UN System,” Dujarric said. The office, he added, has a mandate to “ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.”