The High Commissioner for Human Rights has requested unfettered access to conduct an independent assessment of the human rights situation in China’s Xinjiang region.
While China has professed openness to this request, any such access would need to be genuinely unfettered and unrestricted - features noticeably absent from previous stage-managed diplomatic visits to Xinjiang. At a minimum this should entail that the High Commissioner and her representatives be able to visits sites of their choosing and speak with individuals confined to “political education” camps privately, confidentially, and without fear of reprisals.
In this regard we welcome the joint letter submitted this week by 22 delegations to the President of the Human Rights Council and to the High Commissioner, urging China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang for the High Commissioner and other independent international observers. The joint statement appropriately requests the High Commissioner to keep the Council regularly informed on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. This will enable the Council to decide what action is needed to ensure China upholds the “highest standards of human rights,” in accordance with its obligations as a member of this Council – and the consequences if it does not.
Most importantly, the joint letter sends a strong message that we are moving beyond the era of selectivity, and that no country, large or small, is exempt from the scrutiny of this Council. We understand that the joint letter remains open for additional signatures, and we encourage those delegations that have not yet signed to do so. We are particularly disappointed that OIC member states have not yet engaged meaningfully with the human rights situation affecting Muslims in Xinjiang, while they have spoken out on other situations. This risks fueling perceptions of double standards and politicization; supporting the constructive joint statement would be a useful step towards addressing such perceptions.
We welcome China’s acceptance of a UPR recommendation to respond positively to a country visit request by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, which should be facilitated as a matter of priority and without restriction.
We would suggest that China could benefit from technical assistance by also drawing on the expertise of other UN Special Rapporteurs, such as the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of human rights while countering terrorism. Given that China has advanced the need to counter terrorism as its rationale for mass programs directed at Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang, the Special Rapporteur could offer useful guidance on more rights-respecting ways to counter terrorism than mass surveillance, detaining over a million Muslims, and stripping an entire population of its rights to freedom of religion, privacy, culture and expression.