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China Pushes Back Over Scrutiny of Uyghur Rights at UN Event

FILE PHOTO: A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, Sept. 4, 2018.

China is urging U.N. member states not to attend a Wednesday meeting on the human rights of ethnic Uyghur Muslims that several Western countries and rights groups are hosting, calling it politically motivated and denying there is any problem in Xinjiang.

“The current situation in Xinjiang is at its best in history with stability, rapid economic development and harmonious co-existence among people of all ethnic groups,” China’s U.N. mission said in a statement, speaking about the autonomous region in northwestern China where Uyghurs and several other ethnically Turkic Muslim minority groups live. “The U.S. and other co-sponsors are obsessed with fabricating lies and plotting to use Xinjiang-related issues to contain China and create [a] mess in China.”

The Chinese mission also called for the virtual event at the United Nations to be canceled, saying it interferes with China’s internal affairs.

For years, Beijing has come under strong international criticism from the West and many Muslims for its treatment of Uyghurs, which includes widespread government surveillance and abuses including forced birth control. Human rights groups say China has sent more than a million Uyghurs to detention camps. China says the compounds are "vocational education centers" intended to stop the spread of religious extremism and terrorist attacks.

Critics of the policy say the measures are aimed at destroying Uyghur identity.

The United States, along with several other Western nations, has described the treatment of the Uyghur population as genocide. Washington imposed sanctions on several Beijing officials in March, and the European Union followed suit. The U.S. also has restricted trade with Xinjiang and sanctioned some Chinese companies accused of using Uyghurs as forced labor.

Wednesday’s meeting is co-sponsored by Britain, the U.S. and Germany, as well as several groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and the World Uyghur Congress.

According to the event invitation, it is intended to bring together participants to “discuss how the U.N. system, member states and civil society can support and advocate for the human rights of members of ethnic Turkic communities in Xinjiang.”

“The situation in Xinjiang is one of the gravest human rights crises of our time,” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said. “At the U.N., we are asking for immediate access to Xinjiang for the U.N. high commissioner for Human Rights.”

The high commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, has been pressing Beijing to allow her to visit Xinjiang for some time. In late February, the Chinese government said it had invited her, but no visit has materialized.

"China may not want more scrutiny of its appalling human rights abuses in Xinjiang but that's exactly what this event will bring,” HRW’s U.N. Director, Louis Charbonneau, told VOA. “Beijing has been trying for years to bully governments into silence but that strategy's failed miserably, as more and states step forward to voice horror and revulsion at China's crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims."

China's 2010 census put the total population of Uyghurs at just over 10 million, less than 1% of China's total population. They are the largest ethnic group in the autonomous region of Xinjiang.