Representatives of more than a dozen countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, as well as several international human rights groups, condemned China’s human rights violations against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Network in Xinjiang on Wednesday (May 12) and urged China to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights unrestricted access to Xinjiang to investigate the situation. China had previously lobbied UN member states not to attend the event, but Chinese representatives asked to speak at the event, accusing it of being politically motivated.
In her opening remarks at the event, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, “We will continue to stand up and speak out until the Chinese government stops its crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uighurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang. We will continue to work with our allies and partners until the Chinese government respects the universal human rights of all people.”
Reports by the U.S. government and international human rights organizations have concluded that at least one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are arbitrarily detained by Chinese authorities in re-education camps, where they are subjected to abuse and forced labor. The U.S. government, as well as the Canadian, Dutch and British parliaments, have determined that China’s persecution of the Uighurs in Xinjiang constitutes genocide.
In Xinjiang, people are being abused and women are being forcibly sterilized,” said Thomas Greenfield. Credible reports indicate that many Uighurs and other religious minorities who simply want to practice their religious beliefs, freedom of speech and movement are being forced to work and make clothing and products at the government’s behest.”
She referred to a New York Times report that quoted a Chinese official as saying that the Chinese government’s aim was to “cut off generations, roots, links and sources. The violence, she said, “not only dehumanizes those who are victimized, but it also dehumanizes anyone who stands by and watches.”
Wednesday’s UN network meeting on human rights in Xinjiang was hosted by the United States, Britain and Germany and supported by 18 countries, including Canada and Australia, as well as international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Barbara Woodward, the British ambassador to the United Nations, described the situation in Xinjiang as “perhaps one of the most serious human rights crises of our time. She said the growing body of credible information, including satellite imagery, testimony from survivors of re-education camps and documents made public by the Chinese government, is of grave concern. She said the evidence points to the existence of “a program of oppression against specific minority groups.”
She urged China to grant “immediate, meaningful and unrestricted” access to Xinjiang to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and her office.
In subsequent statements, representatives from eight Western countries, including Denmark, France, Italy and Australia, as well as Japan and Turkey, also condemned China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang and urged China to grant the UN High Commissioner unrestricted access to Xinjiang as soon as possible to conduct investigations.
“If there is nothing to cover up, why is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights not allowed unrestricted [access to Xinjiang]?” said Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s permanent ambassador to the UN.
He said it doesn’t happen often that there are so many important international organizations and countries that jointly organize such events. He mentioned, however, that the countries supporting the event face a “huge threat from China,” but he did not specify what kind of threat.
China denies the allegations, calling the allegations of genocide, forced sterilization and forced labor “lies of the century. China’s permanent mission to the United Nations last week urged U.N. member states not to participate in Wednesday’s videoconference, Reuters reported. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the United States at a regular press conference on Monday of “gathering a handful of countries to misuse UN resources and platforms to smear and attack China and serve its own political self-interest.”
While China urged other countries not to participate, members of the Chinese Permanent Mission to the UN spoke out at the event. Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun said the event was not about human rights in Xinjiang, “but rather using Xinjiang as a political tool to contain China.”
He said, “China has nothing to hide when it comes to issues related to Xinjiang, which is always open. …… We welcome anyone to visit Xinjiang, but we are against any investigation based on lies and presumption of guilt.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet did not attend the event on Wednesday. Reuters reported that a spokeswoman for her office said Bachelet was unable to attend, but that she is gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and continues to engage with Chinese authorities to seek a visit.
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard, and other human rights experts also spoke at the event about Xinjiang and called for joint action to address the human rights abuses.
Juer Ilham, daughter of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Chinese authorities, illustrated the current situation of Uyghurs in Xinjiang through her own experience. As an example, she said that when she spoke to her relatives in Xinjiang some time ago and greeted them in the very usual Islamic way, her relatives would be very frightened.
People don’t feel safe anymore,” she said, “even when we greet them in our traditional cultural, Islamic way. It shows what kind of surveillance people are going through. …… Those who have been able to leave China, they too still live in fear because they are worried about their families. I, for example, speak here and I fear for the safety of my family. I sincerely hope that after this meeting, the Chinese government won’t go after them.”