Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in Geneva on Monday that his government is concerned over China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang province. He urged Beijing to respect the cultural integrity and religious freedom of the Uighurs and other Muslim groups in China.
“Reports regarding human rights violations against Uighurs and other Muslim communities in Xinjiang are serious cause for concern,” Cavusoglu said.
“We encourage Chinese authorities and expect that universal human rights, including freedom of religion, are respected and full protection of the cultural identities of the Uighurs and other Muslims is ensured,” he said.
Cavusoglu acknowledged China’s claims that the massive re-education camps and pervasive surveillance operations in Xinjiang are necessary for national security but urged China to better distinguish between “terrorists and innocent people.”
Cavusoglu’s remarks at the beginning of the UNHCR’s annual four-week session may be the strongest criticism China has faced yet from any Muslim nation over its treatment of the Uighurs, but even Cavusoglu pulled his punches, avoiding direct criticism of the mass detention camps and throwing in a line about Turkey’s respect for “the One China policy,” a gesture of respect for Chinese sovereignty. China generally deflects criticism of its actions in Xinjiang by arguing no other nation has a right to interfere with its internal security policies.
Cavusoglu was arguably harder on Israel than China in his remarks to the UNHCR, claiming the Israelis are violating Palestinian human rights at an “alarming level.” He has certainly been far more critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than Chinese President Xi Jinping in the recent past, referring to Netanyahu as a “cold-blooded killer” in December.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry called on China to close the camps earlier in February, describing them as “a great cause of shame for humanity.”
China, which is also a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, did not immediately respond to Cavusoglu’s statement.