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Forty-three countries call on China to respect Uyghur rights

Agence France-Presse

October 22, 2021 | 7:55am

A member of the Uyghur community holds a placard as she joins a demonstration to call on the British parliament to vote to recognise alleged persecution of China’s Muslim minority Uyghur people as genocide and crimes against humanity in London on April 22, 2021. Lawmakers in the British Parliament will on April 22 debate a motion on alleged human rights abuses and persecution of China’s Muslim Uyghur minority in the country’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Last month Britain accused China of “gross human rights violations” against the Uyghur minority after Beijing slapped sanctions on UK lawmakers and lobby groups, widening a rift with Western powers over alleged abuses in Xinjiang.

AFP / Justin Tallis

UNITED NATIONS, United States — Forty-three countries on Thursday called on China at the UN to “ensure full respect for the rule of law” with regard to the Muslim Uyghur community in Xinjiang, where respect for human rights remains “particularly” worrying.

“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,” the countries said in a joint statement, read at the United Nations by France.

“We are particularly concerned about the situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” the statement said, citing “credible” reports that “indicate the existence of a large network of ‘political reeducation’ camps where over a million people have been arbitrarily detained.”

The declaration, signed by the United States, European countries, Asian states and other spoke of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence and forced separation of children, which it said  “disproportionately continues to target Uyghurs and members of other minorities.”

China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun denounced what he termed the “lies” and “a plot to hurt China.” He quickly stepped in to reject “unfounded accusations.”

“Xinjiang enjoys development and the people are emancipating themselves every day and are proud of the progress made,” he said, supported by Cuba, which criticized any interference in China’s internal affairs. 

In 2019 and 2020, a similar declaration was made public in the same way by Britain and Germany. After garnering 23 backers two years ago, the declaration gained the support of 39 countries last year. They were joined this year by Turkey, Eswatini, Portugal and the Czech Republic, according to diplomats. 

On the other hand, Haiti dropped its backing for the declaration after its relations with China were complicated by Port-au-Prince recognizing Taiwan.

Switzerland also dropped its signature from the statement because, diplomatic sources said, it recently hosted a high-level meeting between the United States and China and decided to prioritize its role as facilitator between these two powers rather than signing the annual declaration calling for respect human rights in Xinjiang. 

According to diplomats, China is increasing pressure every year to dissuade UN members from signing the declarations, threatening not to renew a peace mission in a given country or preventing others from building a new embassy in China.

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