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Record Number of States Condemn China’s Persecution of Uyghurs

UN Joint Statement Calls on Beijing to End Rights Violations in Xinjiang

The perimeter wall of the Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng in western China's Xinjiang region, April 23, 2021. © 2021 Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo

Fifty United Nations member countries today issued a joint statement that condemned the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. It was the largest group of states to publicly denounce Beijing’s human rights violations in Xinjiang, which the UN’s human rights office determined may amount to crimes against humanity.

The statement was presented to UN member states by Canada at a meeting of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights.

The statement urges the Chinese government to implement the recommendations of the groundbreaking August 31 report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). “This includes taking prompt steps to release all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in Xinjiang, and to urgently clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing family members and facilitate safe contact and reunion,” the statement reads.

Earlier in October, the UN Human Rights Council narrowly rejected holding a debate on the high commissioner’s report. Human Rights Watch is urging council members to attempt again at the earliest possible date to discuss and consider options for establishing a UN-backed mechanism to investigate further the Chinese government’s responsibility for human rights violations. Such a body should also recommend avenues for holding those responsible for crimes against humanity accountable.

The new UN high commissioner, Volker Turk, should brief council members on his office’s Xinjiang report. He should also ensure that his office continues to gather information about human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China.

As usual, a close ally of China – this time Cuba – read out a counterstatement at today’s session, praising the Chinese government’s record on human rights. The 66 signatories of the pro-China statement are a virtual rogues gallery of serious rights abusers, such as Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, and Eritrea.

For years, the Chinese government has threatened and intimidated UN member countries with economic retaliation if they dare criticize its abysmal rights record. As today’s joint statement shows, they’re failing. Last week China’s UN mission sent a letter to UN delegations in New York demanding they boycott a UN event organized by 23 countries to discuss the situation in Xinjiang and hear from Uyghur rights advocates.

The result? A packed conference room at UN headquarters. Clearly diplomatic momentum in favor of holding Beijing accountable for its human rights violations is growing.

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