China has rejected “slanderous attacks” about conditions for Muslim Uighurs and other minorities living in its Xinjiang region, saying that they enjoyed freedom of religion and other fundamental rights.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi, addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, said there were 24,000 mosques in the western region, adding that “basic facts show that there has never been so-called genocide, forced labour or religious oppression in Xinjiang”.
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“The door to Xinjiang is always open. People from many countries who have visited Xinjiang have learned the facts and the truth on the ground. China also welcomes the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Xinjiang,” Wang said, referring to UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet, whose office has been negotiating terms of access to the country.
Activists and UN rights experts have said that at least one million Muslims are imprisoned in camps in the remote western region.
China denies abuses and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
On Monday, the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, denounced torture, forced labour and sterilisations that he said were taking place against Muslim Uighurs on an “industrial scale”.
“The situation in Xinjiang is beyond the pale,” Raab told the Geneva forum where China is among the 47 member states.
“The reported abuses – which include torture, forced labour and forced sterilisation of women – are extreme and they are extensive. They are taking place on an industrial scale,” he said.
Raab called for Bachelet or another independent expert to be given “urgent and unfettered access” to Xinjiang and said that there should be a resolution at the council to this effect.
Last month, a bipartisan commission of the United States Congress said in a new report that China has possibly committed “genocide” in its treatment of Uighurs and other minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) said new evidence emerged in the past year that “crimes against humanity – and possibly genocide – are occurring”.
In December last year, Human Rights Watch said a big-data programme in China’s Xinjiang “arbitrarily selects” Muslims for detention, flagging behaviour such as wearing a veil, studying the Quran or going on a Hajj pilgrimage as reasons for arrest.
US President Joe Biden has endorsed a last-minute determination by the Trump administration that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang and has said Washington must be prepared to impose costs on China.