The 40th Human Rights Council session in Geneva, that lasted a month, concluded on March 22, 2019, with China taking exception to the criticism of its human rights record with its treatment of Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
A letter from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China was sent to Geneva on 7th March 2019. It was in response to the US planning to sponsor a side event with Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom on Xinjiang March 13, 2019.
“This side event, based on groundless allegations, targets at China with political purposes and aims at interfering [in] China’s domestic affairs and provoking confrontations. It runs counter to the Charter of United Nations and the principle of cooperation and dialogue. China strongly opposes this plan of the US mission.”
The letter also stated that, “in the interest of our bilateral relations and continued multilateral cooperation,” they should not “co-sponsor, participate in or be present at this side event.”
Chinese human rights behaviour came under even more scrutiny with the UN process of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that is “designed to ensure equal treatment for every country […] and address human rights violations wherever they occur” At this year’s session, including China, there were 14 other countries that were looked at through the UPR process namely: Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Mexico, Mauritius, Jordan, Malaysia, Central African Republic, Monaco, Belize, Chad and Malta.
The Joint NGO statement at the end of 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council backs up the threats of the letter sent to Geneva, with a statement that mentions,
“The efforts China has made to keep States silent, exemplified by intimidation and threats on the one hand and whitewashing the situation on the other, demonstrate the degree to which Council action could have had meaningful results if States had instead called clearly and collectively for an independent, unrestricted fact-finding mission.”
The Xinjiang Muslims live in western China and are part of the Turkic speaking people due to their language being similar to Turkish. They number about 26 million living in a region that has a degree of self-governance. In August 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) found: “[…] reports of mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities, and estimates that upwards of a million people were being held in so-called counter-extremism centres and another two million had been forced into so-called “re-education camps” for political and cultural indoctrination”
Reports from some of the countries at the Human Rights Council session raised the following issues in a report on China’s treatment of the Xinjiang Muslims:
- Abolish all forms of arbitrary detention, including internment camps in Xinjiang, and immediately release the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of individuals detained in these camps (United States of America)
- Implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Xinjiang and allow the United Nations unrestricted access to monitor the implementation (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
- Implement all of the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of August 2018 regarding Xinjiang, particularly on putting an end to mass internments in camps, and invite the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and special procedure experts (France)
- Cooperate with and provide access to relevant United Nations bodies to help ensure that its policies in Xinjiang, particularly regarding the so-called “vocational education and training centres”, are in line with international human rights standards (Netherlands)
- Facilitate full access to Xinjiang and Tibet for all relevant United Nations special procedures (Denmark)
- Take urgent steps to respect the rights of persons belonging to ethnic minorities, including the rights to peaceful assembly and to manifest religion and culture, in particular in Xinjiang and Tibet (Sweden)
- Ensure full transparency on the situation for religious minorities in Xinjiang, including by allowing United Nations-mandated observers unrestricted access to places of internment in the region (Norway)
- Adhere to supply-side reform and promote sustainable and sound economic and social development in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (Tajikistan)
Following the Universal Periodic Review Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon issued a statement where he said:
“I am very concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the re-education camps and the widespread surveillance and restrictions targeted at ethnic minorities, particularly the Uyghurs. The UK and many of our international partners have made clear during China’s UPR that this is a priority issue. We recommended that China should implement CERD recommendations in Xinjiang and allow the UN to monitor implementation.”