The vice governor of Xinjiang, a region in the northwest of China, made it through the first sentence of a 10-minute speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council today without misrepresenting any facts. He got a few other points right, too – including that 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
But the rest of Aierken Tuniyazi’s address was just another shamelessly misleading propaganda rant, as Beijing tries to paper over its gross human rights violations of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. At no point did the vice governor respond to the ample facts and concerns of those abuses documented by academics, diplomats, journalists, UN experts, and organizations, including Human Rights Watch.
Vice Governor Tuniyazi asked his audience to “allow [him] to repeat the above introduction in Uyghur language” – ironic, given that his colleagues in the Xinjiang government are denying arbitrarily detained Uyghurs the right to speak in their mother tongue. His insistence that ethnic minorities’ religion and culture are “protected by law” is impossible to reconcile with the now widely documented destruction of mosques and other cultural property. He raised the cases of four people – who may be guilty of no crime – to implicitly justify the arbitrary detention of approximately one million. And, yes: he insisted that all people in Xinjiang “are united as closely as the seeds of a pomegranate” – yet didn’t explain why Chinese authorities still feel the need to subject those close people to pervasive state surveillance.
That a Chinese government official offered a twisted version of reality to an international human rights body is hardly headline news. And perhaps he was given the floor to help generate more momentum within the UN system and among Human Rights Council member states to continue their quest for real accountability for human rights violations that are shocking in their scope and their scale.
But if Tuniyazi’s remarks – and the broader crisis in Xinjiang – go unchallenged by the council, it will represent another step in China’s long march to bending this institution to its politicized, anti-rights agenda. Now is the time for UN member states to make China accountable to the UN – before China reduces them to “pomegranate seeds.”