This trip takes place almost behind closed doors, the UN delegation being required to integrate, in the name of the epidemic situation in China, a health bubble which keeps it away from the foreign press.
No details on the precise places Michelle Bachelet will visit have been made public, which raises questions about the real latitude she will have on the ground.
Uyghurs in the diaspora and human rights associations are urging the 70-year-old former Chilean president not to be drawn into a propaganda operation by the communist regime.
Xinjiang (north-west), long hit by attacks attributed to separatists and Uighur Islamists, has been the subject of repression in the name of anti-terrorism for several years.
Western studies accuse China of having interned at least a million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities there in re-education camps, and even of imposing “forced labor” and “forced sterilization”.
Washington accuses Beijing of committing “genocide”. China denounces the “lie of the century” and presents the camps as “vocational training centers”, intended to fight religious extremism.
Beijing also says not to impose any sterilization, but only to apply the policy of limiting births at work throughout the country, previously little practiced in the region.
– “Not much hope” –
Present Tuesday and Wednesday in Xinjiang, populated by 26 million inhabitants, nearly half of whom are Uyghurs, Michelle Bachelet will go in particular to the regional capital Urumqi.
Inter-ethnic riots in 2009 killed nearly 200 people there, the vast majority of them Han (ethnic Chinese) beaten or stabbed by Uyghurs.
Ms. Bachelet will also go to Kashgar, in southern Xinjiang, where the Uyghur population is very large and where the security campaign is known to be particularly fierce.
“I hope she can ask the Chinese government where my mother is,” Jevlan Shirememet, a 31-year-old Uyghur who lives in Turkey, told AFP and says he hasn’t heard from her for four years. .
Nursimangul Abdureshid, a Uighur also settled in Turkey, said she had “not much hope” that Ms. Bachelet’s visit “could bring any change”.
“They have to visit victims, like members of my family, not participate in scenes prepared in advance” by Beijing, she told AFP.
Her brother was sentenced to almost 16 years in prison, including for “preparing (for) violent and terrorist acts”, she recently discovered in a database believed to be from leaked police records. .
“If the UN team does not have unlimited access to Xinjiang, I will not accept their so-called reports,” said Nursimangul Abdureshid.
– “Clarifying misinformation” –
However, China has already clearly stated its objectives.
During a one-on-one on Monday with Michelle Bachelet in Guangzhou (south), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed hope that his stay would help “clarify misinformation” about his country, according to his ministry.
“We hope this visit will allow you to get to the bottom of things, to talk about facts and reality, in order to silence rumors and lies,” Wang said.
Michelle Bachelet is the first UN human rights official to visit China since 2005, after years of negotiations with Beijing over the terms of her visit to Xinjiang.
During a videoconference Monday with representatives of foreign embassies, she assured that she would visit detention centers and meet with human rights activists, according to diplomatic sources.