An alliance of 40 countries led by Canada called on China on Tuesday to allow the U.N.’s human rights chief access to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to look into reported abuses of ethnic Uyghurs, including arbitrary detentions, torture, and forced labor.
Leslie Norton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.N., read a statement on behalf of the 44 countries, including the U.S., which cited reports of torture or inhumane treatment and punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children from their parents by authorities.
“We urge China to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the High Commissioner, and to urgently implement the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s eight recommendations related to Xinjiang, including by ending the arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities,” Norton said.
In August 2018, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern over credible reports of mass detention, measures to restrict cultural and religious practices; mass surveillance targeting Uyghurs, and other human rights violations and abuses in the XUAR.
In the statement, Norton also expressed deep concern over the deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong under the National Security Law and about longstanding human rights problems in Tibet.
“We call on Chinese authorities to abide by their human rights obligations,” she said.
Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, expressed appreciation to the countries for their statement.
“The number of countries that have expressed their concerns at the U.N. over China’s genocide of Uyghurs have doubled in spite of China’s intense disinformation campaign over the past four years to cover up its atrocities,” he said in a statement to RFA. “It’s absolutely clear that China can no longer hide its genocide before the international community.”
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N’s high commissioner for human rights, has been trying to get China to agree to give her access to the XUAR for nearly three years. She said Monday that she hoped to visit the XUAR this year and be granted meaningful access to look into reports of serious human rights violations.
At a regular press conference on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called Bachelet’s remarks “seriously inconsistent with the facts” and said that the human rights of ethnic groups in the XUAR are “fully protected.”
“We welcome the High Commissioner to travel to China and visit Xinjiang,” he said. “We already extended [an] invitation to the High Commissioner for visiting Xinjiang and other places in China, and the two sides are in communication on that.”
But Zhao also noted that the visit should be a friendly one for promoting exchanges and cooperation rather than “carrying out a so-called ‘investigation’ with presumption of guilt.”
“We are firmly opposed to anyone using this issue for political manipulation and to exert pressure on China,” he said.
Dolkun Isa said that even though China has stated repeatedly that it welcomes a visit by the high commissioner, it still has not allowed Bachelet access.
“If China has nothing to hide in East Turkestan and all Uyghurs are happy as China claimed, then it should grant Bachelet unconditional and unfettered access to East Turkestan,” Isa said, using the Uyghur name for the XUAR.
Lawmakers end letter
Chinese authorities have conducted a campaign of mass incarceration in the XUAR since 2017 during which an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been locked up in a vast network of internment camps.
Beijing has denied all allegations of abuse of the Uyghurs, saying that the facilities are residential training centers or “re-education camps” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs to discourage religious radicalization and protect the country from terrorism.
But reports by RFA, other media outlets, rights groups, and independent researchers indicate that the detainees are being held against their will and are subjected to political indoctrination and maltreatment, while enduring poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
The statement by Canada and the other countries comes a day after more than 60 lawmakers from 18 parliaments called on the U.N. on Monday to set up a commission of inquiry into alleged genocide and crimes against humanity against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in the XUAR ahead of a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva next week.
The letter by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international cross-party group of lawmakers working towards reform on how democratic countries approach China, cited growing evidence that the Chinese government is “committing crimes against humanity in the XUAR, with credible sources finding indications of genocide.” It also criticized the Council for failing to end impunity for perpetrators of abuse.
Addressed to Nazhat Shameem Khan, president of the Human Rights Council, and to the foreign ministers of eight democratic states represented on the Council, the letter also calls on the commission with a mandate to investigate allegations of genocide and identify the perpetrators of the abuses.
It mentions China’s persecution of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in the XUAR, the one million Muslims being arbitrarily detained in “re-education” camps while subjected to sexual abuse, torture and political indoctrination, Uyghur forced labor, and declining Uyghur birth rates due to forced sterilization and birth control policies.
“We urge you, as members of the U.N. Human Rights Council, to advocate for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry on the gross human rights violations in the XUAR and to introduce a resolution to this effect at the upcoming session,” the letter says.
The lawmakers say that a commission of inquiry should be given a mandate to investigate alleged gross human rights violations against Uyghurs and other minorities, identify the perpetrators and provide procedures to hold them accountable, issue recommendations to end human rights violations, and report back regularly to the Council and other relevant U.N. bodies.
“There is strong evidence that the Chinese Communist Party is committing crimes against humanity in the XUAR, with credible sources finding indications of genocide,” the letter says.
“Through the Genocide Convention, to which China is also a signatory, the international community is legally and morally obliged to prevent these most egregious human rights violations from occurring,” it says.
Among the politicians who signed the letter were Representative Tom Malinowski and Senator Bob Menendez of the U.S.
In a statement about the letter, Iain Duncan Smith, an MP in the UK parliament, took aim at the Council, saying it is used today as a “fig leaf for authoritarian regimes to hide the most egregious human rights abuses.”
“We will not accept this,” he said. “As mounting evidence indicates genocide and crimes against humanity taking place in the Uyghur region, the U.N. must act to establish an independent inquiry into these abuses.”
Margarete Bause, a member of Germany’s Bundestag, said that as long as the Council does not investigate the alleged crimes, it is failing to live up to its mission.
“There can be no turning away from the mounting evidence that documents these abuses,” she said in the statement. “Only a U.N.-led commission of inquiry can begin to bring hope of justice for the Uyghurs and other victims of persecution in the region.”
The Council meeting next week will be the first meeting since this year’s G7 Summit at which a joint communiqué singled out China for criticism on its abuse of human rights in the XUAR.
The development follows recent moves by legislatures in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Lithuania that determined that China’s policies in the XUAR constitute genocide. The U.S. government in January designated abuses in the region as part of a campaign of genocide, and the German parliament is conducting an inquiry into the allegations.
US mulls ban on polysilicon
In Washington, the Biden administration is mulling a ban on imports of polysilicon, a solar panel material manufactured in the XUAR, reported Politico on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the administration’s plans.
Lawmakers have pressured Biden to impose import restrictions on polysilicon, similar to ones the Trump administration imposed on cotton and tomatoes from the XUAR, the report said, noting that about half the global supply of polysilicon comes from the region.
The latest move is in response to calls to confront allegations of forced labor and other human rights violations in the region.
In January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO) to detain all cotton products and tomatoes from the XUAR at the country’s ports of entry, saying that the agency had identified indicators of forced labor including debt bondage, restriction of movement, isolation, intimidation and threats, withholding of wages, and abusive living and working conditions.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Zhao Lijian dismissed talk of genocide and forced labor in the XUAR as “rumors with ulterior motives” and “downright lies.”
“Its real purpose is to restrict and contain the development of relevant sectors and enterprises in China,” he said.
“The U.S. side should respect the facts and immediately stop spreading false information and using that as excuses to unjustifiably suppress Chinese companies,” he said. “China will watch closely the measures to be taken by the U.S. side and make necessary responses to resolutely safeguard its own interests.”
Reported by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
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