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(New York) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should join the growing number of those speaking out publicly against China’s mass detention of over one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists, and World Uyghur Congress, said in a letter to the secretary-general released on September 17, 2019.

By publicly and unequivocally condemning the Chinese government’s abusive policies and calling for the immediate closing of its “political education” camps in Xinjiang, Guterres would make an important contribution in addressing one of the most pressing human rights issues during his tenure leading the United Nations.

“Secretary-General Guterres should use the weight and authority of his office to unambiguously call on China’s leadership to shut down Xinjiang’s abusive detention centers,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The countless victims of China’s latest wave of repression depend on his leadership in standing up to Beijing and demanding an end to the persecution.” 

In July, 25 countries issued a joint statement on Xinjiang at the UN Human Rights Council that raised serious concerns about the arbitrary detention and intense surveillance that the predominantly Turkic Muslim population in Xinjiang has been subjected to in recent years. The Chinese government responded with endorsements from some of the most abusive governments in the world in a statement praising China’s Xinjiang policies.

The secretary-general’s preferred approach to the Chinese government on Xinjiang has been to conduct private diplomacy, the groups said.  However, the Chinese government has answered for its actions only after intense public pressure generated by concerned governments, human rights organizations, and the media.

The groups asked Guterres to urge Chinese authorities to grant the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, and UN experts prompt and unimpeded access to the camps. They also urged him to publicly support creation of a fact-finding mission or similar mechanism to assess the scale and nature of abuses in Xinjiang and to keep the UN Human Rights Council regularly informed.

Chinese authorities exert pressure on governments and public figures to keep silent about Xinjiang and other human rights issues in China. However, the secretary-general has a responsibility as the leader of the UN to do all he can to promote the human rights of everyone in Xinjiang, including through strong public diplomacy. 

“The scale of China’s abuses against Turkic Muslims cries out for the secretary-general’s principled leadership despite pressure from China,” Roth said. “He should reject China’s bullying and speak out firmly on behalf of human rights.” 

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