China Bullied U.N. Delegates Away from Panel on Oppression of Muslims

Security personnel near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, in the Xinjiang region of China. Hun
Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

China warned United Nations delegates against attending a U.S.-backed panel last month focused on Beijing’s human rights violations against Muslims in Xinjiang where the Asian giant is allegedly detaining hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities in so-called “re-education centers,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Monday.

John Fisher, HRW’s Geneva director, declared:

For years China has worked behind the scenes to weaken UN human rights mechanisms. 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.

Citing a March 7 letter it obtained from Chinese Amb. Yu Jianhua to U.N. delegates in Geneva, Switzerland, ahead of the U.N. panel discussion, HRW reported that China used “pressure and warnings” to suppress criticism and to present a false account of its rights record, threatening countries with “negative consequences to their bilateral relationship,” among other things, if they attended.

“In the interest of our bilateral relations and continued multilateral cooperation, I hereby kindly request your delegation, bearing in mind the political motivation behind the above-mentioned side event, not to co-sponsor, participate in or be present at this side event,” the Chinese ambassador wrote.

In addition to the letter, HRW learned from unnamed U.N. delegates “that Chinese diplomats had personally approached them and warned them not to attend the event.”

Despite China’s efforts, the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom successfully co-hosted the March 13 panel during the last U.N. Human Rights Council session that took place between February 25 and March 22.

HRW noted:

[During the panel discussion,] numerous government delegations, the UN high commissioner for human rights, UN rights experts, treaty bodies, and many nongovernmental organizations have all drawn attention to China’s sweeping violations in Xinjiang and called for unfettered access for international monitors to conduct an independent assessment.

“China provided no credible response to concerns raised about the government’s rights violations, notably the mass arbitrary detention of an estimated one million Turkic Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region,” HRW added.

In the letter, China dismissed the human rights accusations as “groundless allegations” aimed at “interfering [with] China’s domestic affairs and provoking confrontations.”

In Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, China has reportedly established hundreds of “re-education” facilities, also known as “mind-transformation” centers,” intended to force detainees to renounce their religion in favor of Beijing’s communist ideology.

The U.S. and U.N. have accused Beijing of imprisoning up to one million Muslims — predominantly from Xinjiang’s Uighur (or Uyghur) ethnic minority, but also Kazakhs and Kyrgyz — at the facilities.

China has repeatedly denied the detainees are subjected to communist indoctrination and are facing systemic torture, disappearances, executions, arbitrary detentions, as well as suppression of cultural and religious life, among other crimes, at the centers.

Beijing claims the facilities are vocational and educational centers aimed at combatting terrorism and religious extremism.

Some Uighur jihadis from Xinjiang are known to operate and train with other terrorists in the neighboring Afghanistan-Pakistan region.


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