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Village officials swear allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party in Kashgar, Xinjiang.  © State WeChat account (新疆访惠聚)

Nearly two dozen countries confronted China at the United Nations this week, voicing outrage over its persecution of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and demanding the government comply with international obligations on the freedom of religion.

For years there has been growing international concern about China’s brutal treatment of 13 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang as part of its “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Extremism.” There are credible estimates of at least one million Turkic Muslims being indefinitely detained in “political education” camps. China’s harsh repression also involves widespread surveillance and the destruction of Turkic Muslim cultural and religious heritage across Xinjiang.

British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce delivered the joint statement on Xinjiang at the General Assembly’s Third Committee on Tuesday on behalf of 23 countries.

The countries said they shared concerns raised by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination regarding “credible reports of mass detention; efforts to restrict cultural and religious practices; mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uyghurs; and other human rights violations and abuses.” They called on China to comply with its national and international obligations to respect human rights, including freedom of religion, and allow UN human rights monitors access to detention centers.  

The statement was backed by Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States.

Predictably, a group of more than 50 countries supporting China sought to “commend China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.” The rebuttal, delivered by Belarus, was joined by notablerights abusers that included Russia and Egypt.

The statement Pierce delivered builds on a similar one presented to the president of the UN Human Rights Council in July and reflects increasing concern about the situation in Xinjiang and an unwillingness to be intimidated by China’s threats of reprisal.

Governments should maintain the momentum by repeatedly raising Xinjiang at various UN venues.  They could organize an informal UN Security Council meeting as well as events like the US and others held last month on the sidelines of the General Assembly. 

Tuesday’s bold statement contrasts sharply with the reluctance of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to publicly criticize Beijing over rights abuses. All top UN officials and national delegations should join the growing chorus demanding an end to the persecution of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. 

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