Following reports of forced labor, political indoctrination, abuse, and deaths within Xinjiang’s internment camps, the U.S. co-hosted a U.N. Human Rights Council side event on Xinjiang alongside Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K. This comes in the wake of Uyghurs around the world increasingly pressuring Beijing to reveal details about their disappeared loved ones, and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s second request to gain access to the region. The New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce covers diplomats’ remarks, and how Beijing pressured countries to stay silent:
China’s oppression of religious and ethnic minorities is well known. “What’s new is the breadth of the repression and how the Chinese government is using breakthroughs in technology to increase its effectiveness,” Kelley Currie, a senior United States diplomat, told a meeting on the sidelines of the council in Geneva.
The United States would consider targeted measures against Xinjiang officials to promote accountability for violations there, said Ms. Currie, who serves with the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice. She urged China to reverse its policies and allow access to the region by United Nations experts.
[…] The United States called Wednesday’s meeting an effort to draw global attention to China’s extreme measures in detaining upward of a million people in re-education and detention centers and to build momentum for action by countries that are members of the Human Rights Council.
The meeting also highlighted an escalating effort by China to counter international criticism. China is scheduled to appear at the council on Thursday for the last round of a formal review of its human rights performance.
[…] China’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva organized four meetings and a photo exhibition to reinforce that narrative. Diplomats and human rights activists reported that it also lobbied hard to dissuade other countries from attending the United States event on Wednesday, warning it would view participation as a hostile act. [Source]
Ambassador Currie’s remarks can be read in full on the U.S. mission’s website. The mission also posted a video of her remarks:
The United States will continue to raise international awareness of the dire situation in #Xinjiang, and we will continue to promote accountability for those who are involved in #HumanRights violations and abuses. Read full remarks by Ambassador Currie – https://t.co/RJUZYhw83d pic.twitter.com/1Eh5G5FhMx
— U.S. Mission Geneva (@usmissiongeneva) March 13, 2019
U.K. and German representatives also raised strong concern:
The UK has serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and reports that over one million Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups have been detained in camps. The UN needs to be given access. pic.twitter.com/pnXgkRZsBb
— UK Mission Geneva (@UKMissionGeneva) March 13, 2019
At Geneva side event, the German delegation officially joins in with calls for China to allow independent UN experts access to Xinjiang pic.twitter.com/50RdJimFrf
— Adrian Zenz (@adrianzenz) March 13, 2019
Adrian Zenz, a prominent Xinjiang scholar who teaches at the European School of Culture and Theology, presented revised figures at the U.N. gathering, where he increased his estimate of the number of internees from one million to 1.5 million. Other estimates have ranged between 800,000 and two million. For Reuters, Stephanie Nebehay reports:
Adrian Zenz, an independent German researcher, said that his new estimate was based on satellite images, public spending on detention facilities and witness accounts of overcrowded facilities and missing family members.
“Although it is speculative it seems appropriate to estimate that up to 1.5 million ethnic minorities – equivalent to just under 1 in 6 adult members of a predominantly Muslim minority group in Xinjiang – are or have been interned in any of these detention, internment and re-education facilities, excluding formal prisons,” Zenz said at an event organized by the U.S. mission in Geneva, home of United Nations human rights bodies.
“The Chinese state’s present attempt to eradicate independent and free expressions of the distinct ethnic and religious identities in Xinjiang is nothing less than a systematic campaign of cultural genocide and should be treated as such,” Zenz added. [Source]
Meanwhile, alongside the State Department’s annual release of its human rights report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo roundly criticized China, saying it was “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations.” For The Independent, Chris Baynes cites U.S. officials’ remarks:
“For me, you haven’t seen things like this since the 1930s,” said Michael Kozak, the head of the State Department’s human rights and democracy bureau, in an apparent reference to Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.
“Rounding up, in some estimations … Millions of people, putting them into camps, and torturing them, abusing them, and trying to basically erase their culture and their religion and so on from their DNA. It’s just remarkably awful.”
[…] At least we’re starting to make them realise there is a lot of international scrutiny on this,” Mr Kozak said. ”It is one of the most serious human rights violations in the world today.”
Donald Trump has been accused of failing to take “meaningful action” over China’s repressive policies, with a cross-party group of politicians writing to Mr. Pompeo earlier this month urging the government to “stand up for the oppressed”.
Mr Trump’s administration has weighed sanctions against senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang, including the region’s Communist Party leader, but Beijing has warned of retaliation. [Source]
As in the past, Beijing issued a lengthy rebuke of the State Department’s annual report, calling on the U.S. to “take care of its own affairs” first. Deutsche Welle, citing other news agencies, details Beijing’s criticisms:
The human rights situation in China has “never been better,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing on Thursday, a day after the US issued a report criticizing human rights violations in the Asian country.
“We hope the US will remove the colored lenses and discard the Cold War mentality,” Lu said, adding that he hoped Washington would “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs with human rights as a pretext.”
[…] China’s State Council also issued a 12,000-word annual rebuttal of the US report in which it pointed to high rates of gun violence in the US, as well racism, sexism, and lack of media freedom in the US.
The last charge is sure to raise some eyebrows in Washington, as Reporters Without Borders ranked the US 45th and China 176th on its 180-country press freedom rating.
Even so, Chinese officials maintained that press freedom in the US had “come under unprecedented attack” as the government accuses media of creating “fake news.” [Source]
Xinjiang’s governor Shohrat Zakir, who earlier presented the camps as pleasant vocational centers and compared them to boarding schools, dismissed reports on camp conditions as “pure fabrications,” and claimed that the camps will disappear when “society does not need” them. Al Jazeera further cites Zakir’s remarks:
Zakir, the Xinjiang governor, said the camps do not target any particular faith, though religious activities are banned in the camps.
Former detainees say the overwhelming majority of those in the camps are Muslim.
“We fully ensure freedom of religion,” including accommodating Muslim “trainees'” desire for halal food, Zakir said, adding that they can request time off and go home on weekends, “like many boarding schools.”
[…] Zakir repeated China’s claim that there have been no violent incidents in Xinjiang for more than two years.
He added, however, that there remains a “long fight” ahead for efforts to defeat “extremism”. [Source]
After China faced its third Universal Periodic Review late last year, Human Rights Watch’s China Director Sophie Richardson details how Beijing has rejected scores of government recommendations, while clearly not implementing recommendations it has agreed to:
“Inconsistent with China’s national conditions, contradictory with Chinese laws, politically biased or untruthful.” In this manner China rejected dozens of recommendations from other governments during its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
[…] China claims to have accepted or is already implementing 284 of the 346 recommendations made by states. It asserts it is combating torture in detention, respecting the rights of detainees, protecting religious freedom for ethnic minorities, upholding citizens’ freedom of speech, including that of human rights defenders, and cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms. In each case, recent Human Rights Watch research clearly shows otherwise.
China pushed back hardest against more than a dozen recommendations calling for urgent access by independent or UN observers to Xinjiang—the northwest region where roughly a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are being arbitrarily detained for “political education.” It sought to dismiss the concerns raised with its long-discredited mantra: “China firmly opposes interference in its sovereignty and internal affairs under any pretext.”
[…] It’s not too late for those governments to speak this week with a common voice on behalf of people under grave threat—the question is whether they will do so. [Source]