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UK/EU: Investigate, Sanction Visiting Xinjiang Official

Resist Chinese Government Efforts to Whitewash Crimes Against Humanity

Erkin Tuniyaz speaks during a press conference in Urumqi in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on April 22, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

(London) – The UK government and European Union should investigate and appropriately sanction rather than meet with a visiting top Chinese official from Xinjiang, where crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are rampant, Human Rights Watch said today.

Erkin Tuniyaz, the Chinese Communist Party deputy secretary in Xinjiang and chairman of the Xinjiang government, is slated to meet with UK officials in London next week and European Union officials in Brussels on February 21. The United States in December 2021 sanctioned Tuniyaz for his role in Xinjiang abuses.

“The UK and EU should be investigating and imposing sanctions on Tuniyaz and other top Chinese officials for their role in crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK director at Human Rights Watch. “The UK and EU should not be drawn into meetings with senior Xinjiang officials so that China can whitewash its atrocities in the Uyghur region.”

Xinjiang researcher Adrian Zenz reported on February 9 that a leaked internal document from the Xinjiang Police files says that Tuniyaz gave a speech on July 6, 2018 in which he instructed officials to ensure that “absolutely secure” measures were adopted to prevent people from escaping from political education camps and police detention facilities in the Uyghur region.

Human Rights Watch and others have documented widespread and systematic attacks directed against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. These include mass arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, mass surveillance, cultural and religious persecution, separation of families, forced returns to China, forced labor, and sexual violence and violations of reproductive rights, which can constitute crimes against humanity. In August 2022, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights concluded that the abuses in Xinjiang “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

The UK government has sanctioned four other senior Xinjiang officials, and the EU has also sanctioned four officials for their roles in the abuses, but not Tuniyaz. The Chinese government retaliated by sanctioning 10 UK organizations and individuals and 10 individuals and four entities in the EU, including members of the UK and the European Parliaments.

The UK government has not characterized the nature of the crimes in Xinjiang, saying that only courts can make such a legal determination. In contrast, it has noted the mounting evidence of war crimes by Russia in Ukraine.

In recent months the Chinese government, while abruptly reversing its “zero-Covid” policy and lifting all pandemic restrictions, has actively courted European governments. In November 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took a large business delegation to China. In mid-February 2023, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is expected to attend the Munich Security Conference. French President Emmanuel Macron and EU’s top diplomat, Joseph Borrell, are planning visits to Beijing in the spring.

Since EU Council President Charles Michel’s visit to Beijing in December 2022, there have been discussions about resuming the EU-China human rights dialogue. Human Rights Watch and other civil society groups had urged EU leaders in 2022 to continue to suspend the human rights dialogue with Chinese authorities until it can be a meaningful exchange capable of producing positive impact on the human rights situation in the country.

“The UK and EU’s response to Tuniyaz’s visit is an important test of their resolve to promote human rights in face of China’s charm offensive,” said Ahmed. “Their recent experience with Russia should have shown that failing to stand up to powerful dictatorships carries steep costs, a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated with China.”

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