39 nations slam China’s alleged persecution of Uighurs

In Summary

• In a joint statement, the countries criticized China's persecution of Uighurs in its Xinjiang province and the recently passed Hong Kong National Security Law.

• There have been several disturbing reports of forced birth control and sterilization, all pointing towards a cultural genocide.

The United Nations Security Council meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York City on February 28, 2020.
The United Nations Security Council meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York City on February 28, 2020.
Image: REUTERS

As many as 39 countries have officially condemned China’s treatment of Uighurs and the forceful imposition of strict security measures in Hong Kong.

Led by the UK and Germany, and including the US, Canada, Australia and Japan, the group slammed the policies of the Chinese Communist Party at the UN General Assembly. This significant event points towards the international community's growing dissatisfaction with Beijing.

In a joint statement, the countries criticized China's persecution of Uighurs in its Xinjiang province and the recently passed Hong Kong National Security Law. And not without reasons.

As per reports, since 2017, the Chinese authorities have arbitrarily detained up to 1.8 million Uighurs and members of other minority communities in internment camps, where the detainees are forced to provide free labour to big multinational companies.

Furthermore, there is a continued effort to wipe out the Uighur culture by imposing severe restrictions on their freedoms of religion, movement, association, and expression.

A surveillance state has been established in the Xinjiang region, where every activity of the residents is monitored. There have been several disturbing reports of forced birth control and sterilization, all pointing towards a cultural genocide.

“We call on China to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office, and relevant special procedure mandate holders,” Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s UN Ambassador, told the committee in a statement, on behalf of all the 39 countries. 

In August 2018, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) had made certain recommendations to China, such as refraining from arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other minorities.

The member states have now urged China to implement those recommendations. They insisted that besides stopping human rights abuse in Xinjiang, the Chinese authorities must do the same in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) as well, where the native population faces similar erosion of their culture and freedoms.

The group of countries also brought the attention of the UN General Assembly to the Hong Kong National Security Law, passed on July 1 this year. The controversial document outlaws words and deeds that the Chinese authorities deem to be separatism, subversion, terrorism or collusion with a foreign power.

Such cases can be transferred to the Chinese mainland for prosecution. As per the group, the law does not conform to China’s international legal obligations. In 1997, before the UK handed over Hong Kong to China, London and Beijing had signed an International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The joint declaration had guidelines regarding freedoms of speech, the press and assembly, among other things. The representatives of the international community stated they wanted the Chinese authorities to guarantee the rights protected under the declaration.

“We also call on China to uphold autonomy, rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, and to respect the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary,” the statement read. On its part, China implied that the US administration was trying to draw attention away from its own problems, such as racial inequality and COVID-19 pandemic.

"I would like to say to the US that blaming China cannot cover up your poor human rights records. Before accusing others, you’d better take a good look in the mirror at yourself. In fact, it is the US that should protect the basic rights of its people,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said.

At the same time, last year, such a resolution against China had the support of only 23 countries. This year, that number has risen to 39. This only goes to show that the number of countries willing to stand up to China’s threat of cutting off trade is increasing. In fact, China's relations have soured with a number of countries recently.

A survey published by the Pew Research Center has stated that over two-thirds of people in 14 major countries said they do not think Chinese President Xi Jinping would be able to pursue a constructive foreign policy.

The coronavirus outbreak in the city of Hubei late last year and the following lack of transparency in how China handled the crisis is one of the main reasons for this loss of confidence among the international community.

Even in the European Union, where China has enjoyed a positive public image, people are getting increasingly suspicious of its policies. In fact, in a first, European countries like Italy, Spain and Switzerland are ready to support a resolution that condemns Chinese policies.

“This proves the international community is being daily persuaded by our righteous cause. As a result, many nations are taking up our issue. The international community stands with us and we’re not alone," Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uighur Congress exile group, said while applauding the statement.

  Turkey's position regarding the issue remains unclear. The country that shares cultural and linguistic affinities with Uighurs and is home to over 50,000 members of the community did not add its name to the resolution but expressed concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang.

“While respecting China’s territorial integrity, Turkey’s expectation, which is well known by the international community, as well as by the Chinese authorities, is that Uighur Turks and other Muslim minorities live in peace and prosperity as equal citizens of China, and that their cultural and religious identities are respected and guaranteed,” the Turkish mission stated.

The Turkish government has long refused to deport Uighurs back to China but that changed in June 2019. A 2017 extradition treaty signed between Beijing and Ankara, while not ratified, was submitted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for consideration to the Grand National Assembly.

Two months later, several Uighurs were sent back to China via Tajikistan. Then, during a trip to China in July last year, Erdogan pledged security cooperation with Beijing.

Meanwhile, in Washington as well, feathers have been ruffled over China's policies. Senator Rick Scott has urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pass his resolution to the International Olympic Committee, urging the body to not let Beijing hold the 2022 Winter Games.

“As long as General Secretary Xi [Jinping] continues on this indefensible course, Communist China should absolutely not be rewarded with the 2022 Olympic Games,” Scott wrote in the letter. With this massive opposition from the international community now, there is some hope for the persecuted Uighur community and other minorities in China.