Last year, reports emerged that Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities are being systematically detained in a network of “re-education” camps in Xinjiang as a crackdown on terrorism in the region continues. According to current estimates, between 800,000 and two million Muslims have so far been detained in the camps, which Beijing has described as “vocational training centers” while denying the practice of forced detention. Amid continued international pressure on Beijing from overseas Uyghurs, foreign governments, and international rights groups, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has again expressed that she is seeking access to China to verify continued reports of disappearances and arbitrary detentions in the region:
“My Office seeks to engage on this issue with the Government for full access to carry out an independent assessment of the continuing reports pointing to wide patterns of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” Bachelet said.
It was her second appeal in six months at the U.N. Human Rights Council, where China’s delegation is expected to respond later this week.
[…] Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uighur Congress, said on Wednesday that two million people are detained in “concentration camps” in Xinjiang, including 338 intellectuals.
A Chinese diplomat, identified as Dai Demao by U.N. and diplomatic sources, denied the allegations.
“There is no internment camp, no concentration camp, there is only vocational training centers,” Dai told the panel. [Source]
After Bachelet announced her office’s desire to access Xinjiang regarding “worrying reports” in December of last year, China’s foreign ministry said they welcome U.N. officials, provided they “avoid interfering in domestic matters or undermining [China’s] sovereignty.”
In response to the growing international censure, China has stepped up its diplomatic defense efforts. Last month Beijing invited diplomats from hand-selected countries to visit in at least four separate rounds, a move that some observers saw as further displaying China’s worry over the backlash.
Reuters’ Nebehay earlier this week reported that a UN envoy on religious freedom last month also asked Beijing to grant him access to Xinjiang:
“I have requested for a visit to go there, because this a priority for me in terms of looking at what is happening there. There is reason to be seriously concerned about reports coming out of the Xinjiang region,” U.N. special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed told a news briefing in response to a Reuters query.
China has not yet replied to his February request, he said.
Shaheed, a former Maldives minister, disclosed he was among several U.N. rights experts to write to China last November voicing anxiety at its anti-extremism program. […] [Source]
The camps, and the overall situation in Xinjiang, were among the topics scrutinized last year during China’s third U.N. Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights. At the Hong Kong Free Press, Jennifer Creery reports that China has rejected 62 of 346 UPR recommendations as “politically biased,” among them several pertaining to Xinjiang detentions:
During the assessment – which all 193 UN nations must undergo approximately every four years – the Chinese delegation was grilled on the detention of an estimated one million Muslim Uighurs and other minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang region. According to NGO reports, offences such as having a long beard or reading religious texts can land non-Han Chinese residents in extrajudicial “re-education” centres.
China said in its responding report that the accepted recommendations demonstrate its “active, open attitude toward promoting and protecting human rights,” while criticising those it did not accept as interfering in its “sovereignty and internal affairs.”
Patrick Poon, a researcher at NGO Amnesty International, told HKFP that Beijing’s response is superficial: “It’s clear that the Chinese government doesn’t respect the comments from other states. It only picks those favourable comments and rejects all important and valid criticisms,” he said. “The Chinese government should show its willingness to follow the international standards which it also endorses at the United Nations. That is the only way to show its determination to improve its human rights record but not to turn the UN mechanism as window-dressing.” [Source]
Meanwhile, CNN’s James Griffiths reports that a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers have written a letter to the State Department castigating the Trump administration’s inadequate response to the situation in Xinjiang:
“The administration has taken no meaningful action in response to the situation in (Xinjiang),” lawmakers wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, four months after they originally called on him to take action on this issue.
[…]In their letter Monday, the US lawmakers, led by House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, said that “over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities have been interned in ‘political re-education camps’ without due process as part of a broader attempt to wipe out their separate identity, language, and history.”
“Global responses to these abuses have been insufficient. Of particular concern are reports of US companies that may be contributing to Beijing’s persecution of Uyghurs through their support or commercial ties to Hikvision and Dahua — two Chinese tech giants that have profited from the surge of security spending in Xinjiang,” the letter added.
It also pointed to plans by Frontier Services Group, a Hong Kong-based company that counts former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince among its investors, to build a “training center” in Xinjiang. […] [Source]
Despite the mounting international criticism of the situation in Xinjiang, in his opening work report to the annual “two sessions” top political meetings in Beijing this week, Premier Li Keqiang vowed to continue a controversial nationwide campaign to “Sinicize religion.” The campaign, which was launched in 2015, has affected many religions and regions across China. At Inkstone News, Nectar Gan reports:
Delivering his annual government work report on Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang told the national legislature that “we must fully implement the [Communist] Party’s fundamental policy on religious affairs and uphold the Sinicization of religion in China.”
The push to “Sinicize religion” – introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2015 – is an attempt by the officially atheist party to bring religions under its absolute control and into line with Chinese culture.
[…] The campaign has coincided with an intensified clampdown on religious freedom across the country, especially on Protestants, Catholics and Muslims who the party fears could become tools of foreign influence or ethnic separatism.
In the far western region of Xinjiang, over 1 million Uygurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have reportedly been held in internment camps and forced to denounce Islam and pledge loyalty to the party. [Source]
See also the most recent China Leadership Monitor, in which James Leibold argues that “Xinjiang has emerged as the party’s incubator for a more assertive and coercive form of nation-building and cultural re-engineering” due to the Party’s “irrational” insecurities about stability.