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UN rights chief slammed for not acknowledging Uyghurs on genocide convention anniversary

Observers dismiss his statement as ‘useless’ and ‘hypocritical.’

On the 75th anniversary of the U.N. convention on genocide, the international body’s human rights chief called on the global community to hold perpetrators accountable, but was slammed for failing to condemn the situation facing Uyghurs in northwestern China.

“Genocide is never unleashed without warning,” Volker Turk, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement. “It is always the culmination of preceding and identifiable patterns of systematic discrimination – based on race, ethnicity, religion or other characteristics – and of gross human rights violations, targeted as a matter of policy against a people; minority; community.”

In the statement, Turk referenced past examples of genocide, including during the Holocaust, and in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia. 

Those who monitor the Uyghur situation in China’s Xinjiang – many of whom say genocide is occurring in the region – took to social media on Tuesday to voice disappointment that Turk did not mention Xinjiang at all, despite what they call obvious warning signs.

At least 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities are believed to have been held in a network of detention camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region since 2017.

Beijing has said that the camps are vocational training centers. The government has denied widespread allegations that it has tortured people in the camps or mistreated other Muslims living in Xinjiang. The U.S. government, and several Western parliaments have declared the Chinese government’s actions toward the Uyghurs as genocide or crimes against humanity.

“Volker Turk’s statement means little when people in powerful positions like him are not prepared to act over a well-documented and publicized genocide happening against the Uyghur people, recognized by free parliaments and by tribunal,” Rahima Mahmut, the U.K. Director for the World Uyghur Congress told RFA Uyghur. “ I personally find it disgraceful how so many people rightly acting against other atrocities are silent on China.“

Donald Clake, a law professor at the George Washington University, said in a tweet on X, formerly Twitter, “@volker_turk Could you specify where, in your opinion, genocide is occurring? These abstract pronouncements are useless against real crimes."

Emma Reilly, a former U.N. staffer who was fired after whistleblowing on the U.N. for handing the names of Uyghur activists to the Chinese government, criticized Turk on X for not taking any concrete action at the U.N.

“@volker_turk is a hypocrite,” she said. “@UNHumanRights is complicit in #UyghurGenocide by handing names to #Beijing; @UN defends that policy in court; All evidence shows it continues; @UN has never investigated.”

Rushan Abbas, the executive director of the Campaign for Uyghurs, used Turk’s own words to criticize his statement.

“Genocide is never unleashed without warning, and can only continue through repeated denial,” Rushan Abbas said. “The Chinese Communist Party is carrying out full-fledged genocide against Uyghurs, and spends billions to deceive the world. It is up to all of us to stand on the side of truth.”

Zumretay Erkin, director of global advocacy for the World Uyghur Congress, told RFA that Turk's statement highlighted the importance of urgent action to stop genocide.

"The 75th anniversary of the Genocide Convention as well as the 75th year of the UN Declaration for Human Rights should be the opportunity for this office to take meaningful action on the Uyghur genocide, such as calling on China to stop the ongoing Uyghur genocide and release all the Uyghurs detained in concentration camps," said Erkin.

RFA attempted to contact the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights but received no response.

Edited by Eugene Whong.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Uyghur.


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