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UN Chief Should Support Remote Investigation in Xinjiang

Guterres’ Public Outrage Over Myanmar Should Extend to China

A guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux, western China's Xinjiang region, December 3, 2018. © 2018 AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is hoping the Chinese government will grant UN experts unrestricted access to detention centers in Xinjiang where over a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims have faced torture and myriad other human rights abuses. But he should make clear to Beijing that an investigation can take place with or without access.

In a recent interview with Canadian broadcaster CBC, Guterres urged Beijing to give the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, and other UN experts “unlimited access” to Xinjiang, which Bachelet had first requested over two years ago.

In the face of Beijing’s foot-dragging, Guterres should go a step further and endorse Bachelet’s team conducting a remote investigation that publicly reports its findings.

As shown by UN inquiries into abuses in North Korea and Myanmar, an investigation in Xinjiang can be comprehensive and credible even without the Chinese government’s cooperation. There is ample evidence of the impact of Beijing’s repressive policies in the public domain, including internal Chinese government documents and satellite imagery published by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and news outlets.

Guterres, who is seeking a second term as secretary-general, has not yet called on China to end its abuses in Xinjiang, as have 50 UN experts and dozens of UN member countries. But he recognizes the value of speaking out publicly. As he said in another interview, “Our power in the UN is the power of persuasion, is the power of speaking up, is the power of denouncing what needs to be denounced.”

Guterres has been getting it right in Myanmar, where over the past two months he has repeatedly condemned the Myanmar security forces’ atrocities against demonstrators protesting the military’s February 1 coup. And the junta is facing mounting pressure, partly due to Guterres, his special envoy, the UN special rapporteur, and other UN officials’ speaking out.

It’s time to do the same with China.

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