A coalition of 41 countries has called for access to concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang region to examine the alleged rights violations of an estimated one million Uighur Muslims imprisoned there.
Canada released the cross-regional joint statement Tuesday at the U.N. Human Rights Council. In issuing the statement, Leslie Norton, Canada’s U.N. ambassador to Geneva, stressed the urgency of gaining a thorough understanding of the human rights situation.
Leslie Norton said, “Credible reports indicate that more than a million people are being arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang, that there is widespread and disproportionate surveillance of Uighurs and other minorities, and that fundamental freedoms and Uighur culture are being restricted. There are also reports of torture or cruel and inhuman humiliating treatment or punishment, forced birth control, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children from their parents by authorities.”
On behalf of the coalition, Norton urged the Chinese government to immediately allow independent observers, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, free access to Xinjiang.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet made a similar request at the beginning of the Human Rights Council’s Monday session.
She said, “I continue to have discussions with China on the format of the visit, including meaningful access to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and hope that this will happen this year, especially as reports continue to point to serious human rights violations.”
Beijing has said the concentration camps are vocational centers designed to deter religious extremism and terrorist attacks.
China has said it welcomes visits by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to China, including Xinjiang, but only on the condition that they are friendly visits and not so-called “investigations” under the assumption of guilt.
China also reacted differently to the joint statement calling for access to the Xinjiang concentration camps.
Jiang Duan, the Chinese minister to the UN in Geneva, simply ignored the statement. Instead, he expressed serious concern about the grave human rights violations suffered by Canada’s aboriginal people. His statement was supported by seven countries – Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Syria and Sri Lanka.
Canada has historically dispossessed Aboriginal people of their land, killed them and eradicated their culture,” Jiang Tuan said. We call for a thorough and impartial investigation of all crimes against Aboriginal people, especially children.”
Canada’s ambassador to the UN acknowledged that Aboriginal people continue to face systemic racism, discrimination and injustice. She also noted that the Canadian government is working to right these wrongs.