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Uyghur Rights Groups Support Request to Debate China's Xinjiang Record

FILE - Residents line up inside the Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center, which was revealed by leaked documents to be a forced indoctrination camp at the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region, Dec. 3, 2018.
FILE - Residents line up inside the Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center, which was revealed by leaked documents to be a forced indoctrination camp at the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region, Dec. 3, 2018.

Rights groups urge other countries to follow the lead of the U.S. and several other Western countries that are asking the United Nations Human Rights Council to hold a debate in its next session in 2023 on China's human rights record in the Xinjiang region.

"The international community must remember its obligation to end atrocity crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity," said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress.

The draft resolution presented Monday included the backing of Britain, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

More than 60 Uyghur organizations from 20 countries welcomed the draft resolution. In a joint statement, the groups said they will continue to push for further action following last month's U.N. assessment on China's treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The report concluded that Beijing may have committed "crimes against humanity" against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim populations.

"Governments must seize this opportunity to finally respond to the abuses," said Omer Kanat, executive director of the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project.

While Uyghur rights groups are encouraged by some of the Western governments' action, "the response from governments needs to be commensurate with the gravity of the abuses Uyghurs have faced, and are still facing, on the ground," Peter Irwin, senior program officer at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, told VOA.

"When negotiations get underway, governments need to keep in mind the legitimacy of the U.N. human rights system itself — a system they may need to rely on one day for support," Irwin said.

Beijing's response

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told the press in Beijing that the Western countries that signed the draft resolution are using the U.N. Human Rights Council to interfere with Beijing's domestic affairs. He added that some countries are trying to discredit and contain China's development.

"They blatantly apply double standard and have gone so far as to name and shame some developing countries and openly pressure them. This has poisoned the atmosphere and led to aggravated confrontation at the Human Rights Council, which is detrimental to international human rights cooperation. The international community firmly rejects such practice," Wang said.

Chinese officials have repeatedly said accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang are lies and that Beijing's policies are aimed at fighting terrorism, separatism, radicalization and violence.

The Chinese embassy's spokesperson, Liu Pengyu, told VOA that Beijing has addressed "both the symptoms and root causes" of terrorism and has made it safe for the residents of Xinjiang.

"We hope that the United States and the West will stop using the Human Rights Council as a tool for political manipulation, view Xinjiang's anti-terrorism and radicalization efforts in a fair, objective and responsible manner,” Liu wrote in an email response to VOA.

Last week, 27 nations supported Beijing on this issue in a statement to the council.

UN Xinjiang assessment

Just before Michelle Bachelet's term ended as U.N. high commissioner for human rights, she released a much-anticipated report on China's human rights violations in Xinjiang, including arbitrary detention of Muslim groups including Uyghurs in so-called vocational education training centers, forced sterilization, coerced labor, family separation and religious repression.

The recommendations in the assessment included asking for the Chinese government to release individuals who have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and conduct "a full review of the legal framework governing national security, counterterrorism and minority rights" in the Xinjiang region.

Commission of inquiry

The U.N. General Assembly has become a platform for rights organizations to ask the international community to take further action toward China following the U.N. assessment.

On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, some rights groups and diplomats met and pushed for a U.N. investigative and accountability tool called a commission of inquiry, which would further look into allegations of China's human rights violations.

Survivors of China's so-called reeducation camps went on a hunger strike last week outside the White House and accused Beijing of causing "ongoing forced starvation" of Uyghurs and other minorities under COVID-19 lockdown measures in Xinjiang.

Two U.S. lawmakers, Republican Congressman Chris Smith and Democratic Congressman Tom Suozzi, introduced legislation Friday urging the U.S. government to sponsor a resolution that would establish a U.N. commission to investigate the rights violations in Xinjiang.

"The first concrete step done immediately is to file a resolution. We have only a few days to get that done at the U.N.," Smith told VOA. "And even that's not enough."

On Saturday, dozens of Uyghurs protested outside the U.N. building in New York, calling for an investigation into the alleged abuses in Xinjiang.

This week's draft resolution presented to the U.N. generated more response from rights organizations.

"A modest — and yet unprecedented — step at the UN Human Rights Council's 51st session towards accountability for Chinese government," tweeted Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

The 51st session of the U.N. Human Rights Council convened September 12 and ends October 7.

The council is expected to vote on the draft resolution next week. It is the first time a draft resolution to the council is focused on China.