China’s ‘widespread and systematic’ rights abuses in Xinjiang: S. Korea, most Muslim states fail to sign UN statement

Special to

By John J. Metzler

China’s ongoing human rights abuses against its Muslim minority in Xinjiang have again been chastised by a key UN committee. Forty-three countries strongly condemned the Beijing regime’s widespread human rights violations against the Uyghur minority in what has become a systematic state policy in China’s western Xinjiang region.

The French delegation coordinated efforts leading to a Joint Statement on Human Rights in Xinjiang.  French UN Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière presented the declaration at the General Assembly’s Third Committee. The document states, “Credible reports indicate the existence of large network of ‘political re-education’ camps where over a million people have been arbitrarily detained.”

The statement added, “We have seen an increasing number of reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations, including reports of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children.”

China is detaining over 1 million Uighurs in concentration camps.

“There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion and belief and the freedoms of movement, association and expression as well as on Uyghur culture,” the document adds.

The statement calls on the UN high commissioner for human rights to present an assessment of the situation in Xinjiang as soon as possible.

Significantly the French-led human rights initiative was supported by the United States and many European Union countries such as Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. Australia, Canada, Japan the United Kingdom, and New Zealand joined among others.

Importantly Turkey backed the declaration. One would expect this is only logical given that the oppressed Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic minority; yet in a similar condemnation last year, the Ankara government failed to support the statement. Curiously with the exception of Turkey and Albania, no other Moslem majority country backed the document which calls for religious rights and freedoms in remote Xinjiang.

Among key Asian countries, South Korea (confronted by massive human rights abuses in neighboring communist North Korea) failed to sign on nor did Muslim majority states such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Only two African states signed, Eswatini (Swaziland) and Liberia.

Equally not a single country in the Western Hemisphere south of the USA with the notable exception of Honduras signed on. Why don’t South American democracies such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile join? Simple, it’s their major commercial ties to China.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) a watchdog group stated, “The unprecedented cross-regional coalition endorsing the statement is further proof that countries are ignoring Beijing’s threats of retaliation against those that publicly raise concerns about Chinese government violations.”  Agreed, but I would add conversely it also underscores communist China’s less than subtle intimidation of countries who dare raise the human rights issue in international organizations.

Beijing blasted back rhetorically with a statement in the same UN Committee backed by 62 countries supporting “China’s Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.” (China did not list the backers). Not surprisingly Cuba read the document echoing Beijing’s claim that issues related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet are “China’s internal affairs that brook no interference.”  Beijing’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun later denounced “the groundless accusations” and “lies” and accused the USA and other countries of “poisoning the atmosphere of cooperation.”

This was the third year in which human rights statements condemned China in the UN’s Third Committee.

Realistically despite the growing pushback to Beijing’s human rights abuses by larger numbers of UN members who are willing to publicly condemn the expanding Xinjiang crisis, there’s an equally large and totally acquiescent number of states which either support or condone China’s policies. This is a fact.

Louis Charbonneau of HRW stated, “UN member states should establish an international commission of inquiry to formally investigate alleged crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and recommend avenues for holding those responsible to account.”

Indeed, so and it’s not a moment too soon.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]