A group of 54 United Nations members issued a statement Tuesday defending China for building over 1,000 concentration camps to imprison, torture, indoctrinate, rape, and kill Muslims, crediting the camps with building “a stronger sense of happiness” in the country.
Belarus, often considered the last dictatorship standing in Europe, delivered the statement on behalf of the China-allied nations at the General Assembly in response to a group statement condemning China’s human rights atrocities.
China has built hundreds of concentration camps in western Xinjiang province – home to the nation’s Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority – since late 2017, which it has used to imprison up to 3 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz Muslims. Survivors of the camps, mostly Kazakhs or Uyghurs married to foreign nations who appealed abroad for their freedom, say they were subject to forced sterilization and beatings, forced to memorize Communist Party propaganda songs, affirm their loyalty for dictator Xi Jinping, and serve as sex slaves for guards at the camps. Some also accused China of using the prisoners for slave labor to manufacture products sold in, among other places, the United States.
The Chinese government published the favorable statement in full.
Belarus, claiming to speak on behalf of other draconian states like Russia, Bolivia, Pakistan, and Democratic Republic of Congo, condemned “politicizing human rights issues by naming and shaming” human rights violators.
“Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers,” Belarus said, using China’s preferred term for the concentration camps. “The past three consecutive years has [sic] seen not a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang and people there enjoy a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment and security.”
Despite the Chinese regime severely limiting the entry of foreigners or other Chinese people from elsewhere in the country into Xinjiang, the note said the countries “appreciate China’s commitment to openness and transparency,” referencing a staged “media access” tour China organized for the state media of various friendly countries.
The statement concluded by condemning those standing up for human rights and demanding they “refrain from employing unfounded charges against China based on unconfirmed information before they visit Xinjiang,” which they cannot do freely.
The statement followed an attack against human rights defenders in July by a coalition of countries with deep business ties to China for demanding accountability on the Xinjiang camps.
Belarus has a longstanding human rights record that the United Nations defined as “fundamentally poor” in July. It has only ever had one president since achieving independence from the Soviet Union. pro-Russia autocrat Alexander Lukashenko. Among the human rights crimes Lukashenko stands guilty of are the arbitrary arrest and silencing of journalists and dissidents and widespread regulations on speech and assembly.
Belarus is an “important” partner to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), according to Beijing. The BRI is a sprawling infrastructure project nominally meant to expand modern transportation to connect Beijing to Western Europe. In reality, China has used the BRI to hand out predatory loans to developing countries, many of which then embezzle the money and leave the government deeply in debt. China then takes ownership of key properties in those countries, expanding its political reach.
Dictator Xi Jinping last visited Minsk in June to discuss the expansion of BRI projects.
BRI has, in part, silenced Muslim countries that would otherwise have a vested interest in defending Chinese Muslims from human rights atrocities. In addition to Pakistan, which co-signed the Belarussian statement at the U.N., countries like Malaysia and Turkey have also defended the camps. The Uyghurs are an ethnic Turkic people, making that country’s support all the more incongruent with its interests.
Belarus’s statement on Tuesday was a response to one by the ambassador to the United Kingdom representing 23 democracies – including America, Japan, Australia, Albania, and Canada.
“We call on the Chinese government to uphold its national laws and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, in Xinjiang and across China,” the statement read, demanding China allow the U.N. “meaningful access to Xinjiang” without complete control over where inspectors go and what they see.
“For years China has worked behind the scenes to weaken UN human rights mechanisms,” Geneva director for Human Rights Watch John Fisher said at the time. “But the growing global outcry over its mistreatment of Xinjiang’s Muslims has sent China into panic mode, using public as well as private pressure to block concerted international action.”
“It speaks volumes that China felt it necessary to twist arms and mount propaganda displays to try to suppress scrutiny of its rights record. Now it’s up to governments to take action at the June Council session and show that China is being held to international rights standards,” Fisher added.
In September, Chinese state media openly warned other countries not to use the General Assembly’s general debate, in which all members’ heads of state are invited to speak on any issue, to demand justice for Xinjiang.-
“The US should be blamed during this year’s general assembly because it has been jeopardizing the globe’s actions on climate change,” the state media outlet Global Times recommended instead. “Washington should not use the Xinjiang question to distract the attention of the international community.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry sternly condemned the United Kingdom and its allies at the United Nations for urging action on Xinjiang.
“The few Western countries’ anti-China show ended as a disgraceful debacle,” spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday.
Xinjiang “now enjoys social stability and unity among all ethnic groups. People there are living a happy life with a much stronger sense of fulfillment and security. Their rights to life, health and development have also been significantly improved,” Geng claimed.