Western Governments Urge China to Close Internment Camps at UN Rights Review
A number of largely Western governments made strong recommendations calling on China to halt its repressive measures against Uyghurs, to close the internment camps holding over one million, or allow UN independent experts into the region to investigate.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) stands as an interstate review mechanism within the UN system tasked with comprehensively reviewing the human rights record of all member states. Since China’s last review in 2013, human rights conditions for Uyghurs have considerably worsened, namely restrictions on religious freedom and the mass arbitrary detention of over one million Uyghurs in internment camps.
According to an assessment by Human Rights in China, 24 governments raised their concerns over issues relating to Uyghurs and Tibetans during the review itself, including at least 14 states who raised the camps in particular.
Uyghur Congress president Dolkun Isa, while leading a large-scale march and demonstration outside calling for the immediate closure of the camps remarked, “We’re encouraged by recommendations , but remain very concerned that so few states actually raised what we see as the most serious human rights issue in China, or perhaps the world, in 2018.”
Over 1,000 Uyghurs, Tibetans, Southern Mongolians, members of the Vietnamese diaspora, Chinese Christians participated in the large-scale demonstration to highlight China’s abhorrent human rights record and to call for the release of all those being held in the internment camps. Demonstrators marched from Palais Wilson to the Broken Chair at the UN Palais des Nations. Many Uyghur activists, community leaders and human rights defenders delivered passionate speeches and chanted for the UN and the international community to hold China accountable for its serious human rights violations during it’s Universal Periodic Review, which was underway in the UN premises.
The United States and France spoke in strong terms in their statements, referring to the “mass internment” of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in China, which accords with a growing body of evidence uncovered by rights groups and journalists.
The Chinese delegation, however, dismissed the criticisms as “policised” and mentioned that, “when it comes to human rights in China, it’s the Chinese people who have the best say.” A Uyghur delegation member addressing the recommendations said, “These vocational training centers are welcomed [and] trainees have never had such colourful and meaningful lives.”
In closing, he said, “Xinjiang is a nice place. Welcome to Xinjiang,” despite the fact that the region has been closed to the outside world for the past two years. China has consistently denied access to UN Special Procedures and turned down requests for a visit from the High Commissioner in 2018.
Many of the recommendations were made despite the fact that the parallel report submitted by the Uyghur Congress back in March ran into significant obstacles ahead of the review this week. At least seven submissions were completely removed from consideration from a key compilation document (Stakeholder Summary) from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) intended to guide states in their recommendations.
Shortly after the first document was posted, however, it was removed from the OHCHR’s website for several weeks. Citing “technical reasons”, the OHCHR re-issued an updated version with critical changes removing citations of reports from several NGOs including all references to reports from the WUC and Uyghur Human Rights Project.