UN members condemn China over abuse of Uighurs in Xinjiang

Fifty countries have urged China to uphold international human rights obligations in its treatment of the Uighur minority.

Ethnic Uighur demonstrators take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey, October 1, 2021
Ethnic Uighur demonstrators take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 1, 2021 [File: Dilara Senkaya/Reuters]

Fifty countries have called on China to “uphold its international human rights obligations” in a joint statement read out during a United Nations debate that condemned violations against Uighurs and other predominately Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region.

The statement, read out by Canada during a debate of the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee on Monday, expressed concern that China had refused to discuss a UN human rights office report which found that the treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang may constitute “crimes against humanity”.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report had made “an important contribution to the existing evidence of serious and systematic human rights violations in China”, according to the joint statement.

“In view of the gravity of the OHCHR assessment, we are concerned that China has so far refused to discuss its findings,” it added.

Violations in Xinjiang noted in the joint statement included mass detentions, surveillance based on ethnicity and religion, restrictions on cultural identity and religious practice, destruction of mosques and shrines, enforced disappearance, forced labour, family separations, and forced abortions and sterilisation.

“Such severe and systematic violations of human rights cannot be justified on the basis of counterterrorism,” the countries said in their statement.

China should fully implement the recommendations in the OHCHR report, the statement adds, including the release of those arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and also clarify the locations of those still missing, and facilitate contact with their families and reunions.

Dai Bing, charge d’affaires of China’s permanent mission to the UN, described the concerns expressed over the human rights situation in Xinjiang as Western “hype” designed to “contain” China.

“Xinjiang is just a façade, behind which lies their true intent, namely, to use Xinjiang to contain China and maintain their hegemony,” Dai said, according to state media organisation China Central Television (CCTV).

“Today, it’s China that’s in the crosshairs of their punitive flak. Tomorrow, it would be another developing country targeted by them,” he said.

Ruthless campaign

Human rights groups have accused China of sweeping a million or more people from Muslim minority groups into detention camps in Xinjiang where many have said they were tortured, sexually assaulted, and forced to abandon their language and religion.

The camps were just one part of what the rights organisations have called a ruthless campaign against hardline groups in Xinjiang that also included draconian birth control policies and all-encompassing restrictions on people’s movement.

In early October, China managed to avoid a discussion of the OHCHR report at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council after most of the body’s 47 members blocked the beginning of the debate.

Human Rights Watch called on Monday for the UN Human Rights Council to again try and hold the debate “as soon as possible”.

“Clearly, diplomatic momentum in favour of holding Beijing accountable for its human rights violations is growing,” Right Watch’s UN director Louis Charbonneau said in a statement.


The Uyghur Human Rights Project said that more UN member states were “pushing back on China’s treatment” of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Last week, the United States, United Kingdom and others organised a meeting to follow up on the OHCHR report. China’s UN Mission sent a letter to all UN member states expressing its “resolute opposition” to the meeting and strongly recommending that they boycott “this anti-China event”.

“It is a politically motivated event,” the Chinese UN mission said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

“The co-sponsors use human rights issues as a political tool to interfere in China’s internal affairs like Xinjiang, to create division and turbulence and disrupt China’s development,” the mission added.

Calling the event “disinformation propaganda,” the letter accused the sponsors of violating “the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and norms of international relations”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies