The United Nations must take urgent and immediate action to protect Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims facing crimes against humanity committed by China in its northwestern Xinjiang region, diplomats, legal experts, and rights activists said on Wednesday.
Speaking in an online virtual meeting, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said that more than a million Uyghurs and other members of Muslim ethnic minority groups have already been incarcerated in a vast network of detention camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Chinese policies in the region have also led to a reported reduction of 48.74 percent in the birth rate among Muslims in Xinjiang, Roth said, calling China guilty of “the crime of persecution—a deliberate effort to deprive Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims of their most fundamental rights [and] to snuff out their culture and religion.”
“We should start pressing for a UN resolution on Xinjiang—most logically at the UN Human Rights Council,” Roth said. “Crimes against humanity deserve a commission of inquiry to collect the evidence and to build the case for prosecution.”
And though China would certainly block any resolution proposed in the UN Security Council, “a procedural vote to place Xinjiang formally on the Security Council’s agenda should be possible,” Roth said, noting that China’s veto also blocks access to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“We should examine alternative avenues to justice, such as the use of universal jurisdiction that several European Governments have used so effectively when ICC access for Syrian war crimes was similarly blocked,” Roth said.
“And we should consider creating an international investigative mechanism for Xinjiang, similar to what has been done for Syria and Myanmar.”
Also speaking at the May 12 meeting, Christoph Heusgen—permanent representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to the U.N.—called on China to “respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and tear down the detention camps.”
“If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you finally grant unimpeded access to the HCHR,” the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights,? Heusgen asked.
“Despite the pressure exerted on many of us, let’s commit to continue our efforts until the Uyghurs can live again in freedom, until they are no longer detained, no longer victims of forced labor and other human rights abuses, until they can exercise freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”
Universal human rights
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with the word ‘universal’ for a reason,” said U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, also speaking at the meeting.
“Indeed, the foundational unit of the United Nations—from the first sentence of the Charter—is not just the nation state. It is also the human being,” she said.
“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang," Thomas-Greenfield said. "And we will keep working in concert with our allies and our partners until China’s government respects the universal human rights of all its people."
The U.N. has failed so far to take effective action in the case of Xinjiang, though, said Dolkun Isa—president of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress.
“There has been no single concrete action taken by the UN Human Rights Council, no urgent resolution has been introduced, no special session has been proposed.”
“In light of the Uyghur genocide and China’s threat to the UN human rights mechanisms and to the civil society space, the UN needs to act in line with its own core values,” Isa said.
US notes range of abuses
In an annual report on international religious freedoms released on May 12, the U.S. State Department noted that Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have subjected Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities to forced disappearance, forced labor, political indoctrination, and physical and psychological abuse.
“There were [also] reports that authorities moved tens of thousands of individuals from their home areas to work elsewhere in the region and the country,” the State Department said.
Programs of forced sterilization and birth control have sharply reduced the birthrate among Muslims in the Xinjiang region, while Chinese authorities have implemented polices, including home inspections, to ensure Uyghurs were not observing religious practices and to encourage neighbors to spy on each other, the State Department said.
The U.K.’s lower house of parliament on March 22, 2021 unanimously voted to label abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang part of a policy of genocide and crimes against humanity, becoming the third global legislative body to do so.
The historic vote marked the first time that a motion declaring genocide has passed unopposed in the British parliament and follows similar designations of genocide in Xinjiang by the U.S. government and by lawmakers in Canada and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in New Zealand on May 5 unanimously agreed that "severe human rights abuses" are taking place in Xinjiang and called on the government to "work with all relevant instruments of international law to bring these abuses to an end."
The vote represented the strongest move to date condemning rights abuses in Xinjiang by New Zealand, whose economy and regional influence is dwarfed by nearby China.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Richard Finney.