For the first time in history, Western countries sent a collective appeal to the UN Human Rights Council in connection with the situation in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Nearly two dozen countries have called on China to stop the mass detentions of ethnic Uighurs in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the west of the country. The appeal is contained in a collective appeal sent to the UN Human Rights Council.
According to UN experts and activists, at least a million Uighurs and Muslims are currently in detention centers in this remote region in western China. The Chinese authorities claim that the detainees are in “training centers” to eradicate extremism, where they are allegedly being taught new skills and professions.
An unprecedented letter addressed to the president of the UN Human Rights Council was signed by the permanent representatives of 22 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan and a number of European states. The United States withdrew from the UNHRC last year.
Despite the demands of activists and human rights defenders, the letter is not an official statement of those that are read publicly at Council meetings. This is due to concerns about a possible political or economic reaction from China, diplomats say. “This is the first collective response regarding Xinjiang … The idea of the resolution was not considered,” said a Western diplomat.
The letter’s authors are concerned about the unlawful detention of people in “large-scale detention facilities, as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly related to Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang” Western countries called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion … in Xinjiang and throughout China.”
The authors also called on the Chinese authorities to allow access to Xinjiang by international independent experts.
Diplomats say that none of the western delegations have taken the liberty to lead the initiative to protect the rights of the Uyghurs. The Chinese delegation is “extremely annoyed” about the appeal and is now preparing its own letter, said one of the diplomats. At the beginning of the three-week session of the UN Human Rights Council, which ends on Friday, the Vice-Governor of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region responded to the charges of detaining Uighurs, saying that the proposed detention centers are actually training centers where people in the region are helped to get rid of from “extremist influence”. According to the vice-governor ErkinTuniyaz, in this way, the Chinese authorities were able to successfully combat terrorism and religious extremism in Xinjiang. This statement was met with criticism from the United States.