It was the third time in three years that the US and European nations used the human rights committee meeting to go after China on its repression of the Uyghurs. While the voice against China’s persecution of ethnic minorities is rising, at the same time, China has managed 17 more countries to back it on its human rights record, raising the supporting nations to 62
After years of brutal crackdown on Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities that swept up to a million population into detention camps and prisons, China’s control of its far west Xinjiang region has entered a new era, with state authorities scaling back many of the most visible aspects of the region’s high-tech police state. After global outcry, Chinese officials declared the camps shuttered in 2019. Many indeed appear to be closed. However, the evidence of the terror of the last four years and the perpetual fear is everywhere among the minority communities.
Uyghur activists accuse the Chinese Government of genocide, pointing to plunging birth rates and the mass detentions, but the authorities say their goal is not to eliminate the Uyghurs, but to integrate them. Regardless of intent, many of the practices that made the Uyghur culture a living thing — raucous gatherings, strict Islamic habits, heated debate — have been restricted or banned, replaced by a sterilised version.
After a prolonged muted reaction by the world on the human rights violations by the Communist regime, the global platform is now raising the voice against the humanitarian crisis in Xinjiang. However, the world community is divided on China’s human rights abuse.
On October 21, over 40 countries criticised China at a UN meeting for the reported torture and repression of Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, keeping a spotlight on the region where foreign governments and researchers say an estimated 1 million people or more have been confined in camps.
Xinjiang officials say they aren’t forcing atheism on the Uyghurs, but rather defending freedom of belief against creeping extremism. Xinjiang’s unique brand of state-controlled Islam is most on display at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, a government school for imams.
On Thursday, China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun denounced “the groundless accusations” and unfounded “lies” and accused the United States and a few other unnamed signatories of the statement of poisoning the atmosphere of cooperation and “using human rights as a pretext for political maneuvering to provoke confrontation.” He strongly defended the development of Xinjiang, saying the lives of its
people are getting better by the day and “your plot to obstruct China’s development is doomed to failure.” Cuba supported China saying what happens in Xinjiang is China’s internal affair, and dismissed all allegations as based on “political motivation” and “disinformation.”
The rival statements spotlight tensions between China and the West over human rights. Those tensions have escalated especially between the United States and China, and include other issues, including responsibility for the Covid-19 pandemic, trade, and Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea.
It was the third time in three years that the US and European nations used the human rights committee meeting to go after China on its repression of the Uyghurs. In 2019, 23 countries signed on to a statement read by the United Kingdom.
In 2020, 39 countries signed a statement read by Germany and this year the statement had four more signatories.
However, Cuba, which had only 45 signatories last year, got 17 additional countries to support China this year.
“We have seen an increasing number of reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations,” the 43 countries said in their statement, “including reports documenting torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children.”
“There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedom of movement, association and expression as well as on Uyghur culture,” they said. “Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uyghurs and members of other minorities.”
The 43 countries called on China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang” to independent observers, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, and other UN investigators.
China’s Zhang said Bachelet has “a standing invitation” to visit and “consultations are still going on.” He stressed that the visit should be “a friendly one” and should not start with “presumed guilt.” “That’s not acceptable to China,” Zhang said.
“The barriers are not on the Chinese side,” he said. “If they want to see a visit, they should change their course and they should give up their politicisation of this issue and to remove the barriers.”
(With inputs from AP)