China arbitrarily detained Uyghurs, separated families says UN HR chief

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China arbitrarily detained Uyghurs, separated families says UN HR chief

The U.N.’s new human right chief said his agency has documented China’s arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and the separation of children from their families in comments during a global update on human rights on Wednesday in Geneva.

Volker Türk, who took over last September, said his office has opened up channels of communication with various actors to follow up on human rights issues in China, including the protection of minorities such as Uyghurs, Tibetans and other groups.

“In the Xinjiang region, my office has documented grave concerns, notably large-scale arbitrary detentions and ongoing family separations and has made important recommendations that require concrete follow-up,” he said.

Türk also said his office has concerns about severe restrictions of civic space, including the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and lawyers and the impact of the National Security Law in Hong Kong.

The United Nations and Western governments have remained steadfast in their condemnation of China over its harsh policies affecting Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hongkongers, though Beijing has angrily denied accusations of abuses and continued maintaining an iron grip on them.

Türk’s comments come nearly three weeks after U.N. Commission on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or CESCR, grilled 40 Chinese delegates about the human rights situations in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, the far-western autonomous region in China where more than 11 million of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur people live.

When asked for explanations about reports of the destruction of Uyghur cultural and religious sites and the mass incarceration of Uyghurs in “re-education” camps, the Chinese delegates responded with denials and assurances that rights were protected.

The responses were counter to evidence submitted to the committee by numerous human rights groups as well as facts uncovered by an exhaustive report issued last August by former U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet that found that China’s detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity.

Adds support for criticism of China

Hanno Schadler, director for genocide issues at the Society for Threatened Peoples based in Germany, said he hopes that European governments will use the report such to repeat criticism of China.

“When the U.N. experts or the high commissioner says something about the situation of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongolians or Kazakhs, it gives states some cover to use that criticism … to try to deflect themselves from criticism by the Chinese government that it’s all part of a Western plot or something,” he told Radio Free Asia.

Sarah Brooks, program director of the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights, said she wasn’t surprised by China’s reaction to the CESCR’s concerns.

“Of course, we expected China to, as it has for the last five years, dismiss concerns about possible crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other minority groups, and instead tout ethnic unity,” she told Radio Free Asia. “But now we also clearly see that lofty language about multilateralism and cooperation with the U.N. is mere rhetoric, and that China is threatened by U.N. experts, on the ESC rights committee or elsewhere, doing the work they were mandated to do.”

The American government and several Western parliaments have declared that the Chinese government’s actions against Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.

During an address to the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council on March 2, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, cited the report by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, or OHCHR, during a meeting on human rights crises around the world.

“We remain gravely concerned about the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that China is committing against Muslim Uyghurs and other members of minority groups in Xinjiang,” he said.

The OHCHR report on Xinjiang “affirmed serious abuses perpetrated by the PRC [People’s Republic of China] in Xinjiang, including the large-scale arbitrary deprivation of liberty of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities, and credible allegations of torture and sexual and gender-based violence,” Blinken said.
–a RFA report, Mar 8, 2023
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