At the opening of this session, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet highlighted “deeply disturbing allegations of large-scale arbitrary detentions of Uighurs and other Muslim communities, in so-called re-education camps across Xinjiang.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report on China’s campaign of repression against Xinjiang’s Muslims, presenting new evidence of the Chinese government’s mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment of the region’s Muslim minority, including indefinite detention of an estimated one million people in unlawful “political education camps” and increasingly pervasive controls on the daily life of 13 million Turkic Muslims in the region.  

A statement by the Xinjiang branch of the Chinese Communist Youth League in March 2017 reveals the purpose of the political education camps with chilling frankness:

The training has only one purpose: to learn laws and regulations…to eradicate from the mind thoughts about religious extremism and violent terrorism, and to cure ideological diseases. If the education is not going well, we will continue to provide free education, until the students achieve satisfactory results and graduate smoothly.

Or, as one ethnic Uyghur man explained to us: “[W]hat they [the Chinese authorities] want is to force us to assimilate, to identify with the country, such that, in the future, the idea of Uyghur will be in name only, but without its meaning.”

A former detainee described conditions in the political education camps: “I resisted their measures. …They put me in a small solitary confinement cell…In a space of about 2x2 meters I was not given any food or drink, my hands were handcuffed in the back, and I had to stand for 24 hours without sleep.”

The Chinese government’s religious restrictions are so severe that it has effectively outlawed Islam in Xinjiang. It has banned facial hair and clothing that could incite “religious fanaticism,” prohibited children from learning religion, and confiscated prayer mats and the Quran. Officials closely monitor people’s religious practices; the authorities have detained people for praying five times a day or circulating religious texts to their families.

The Chinese authorities have particularly targeted Muslims from Xinjiang with connections to a list of “26 sensitive countries,” including Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

As a member of this Council, China should be held to account for its mass, systematic violations in Xinjiang. Some governments have begun to speak out against these repressive policies and practices. But stronger more concerted actions are needed so that there is a significant political cost to China’s campaign of oppression.