Gathered by the U.S., UK, and Germany, 18 countries vowed to break the United Nations’ silence on the Uyghur genocide.
by Ruth Ingram
Eighteen countries braved China’s wrath this week to address human rights violations against the Uyghurs. Pitting their analysis of the “truth” about Xinjiang against the version with “Chinese characteristics,” ambassadors, civil society groups, academics and journalists united against a lone CCP voice to express outrage and grave concern over the atrocities being meted out to Turkic groups in the region.
The extraordinary UN event, organized by Germany, the United States and Britain was slammed by Beijing as an “insult,” designed to cynically interfere in China’s internal affairs.
Prior to the event, Beijing approached UN member states urging them not to attend the “politically motivated” event, claiming, “they are obsessed with provoking confrontation with China” in a memo, which complained that the provocation would lead to more confrontation.
Jewher Ilham whose father, the scholar Ilham Tohti was given the dubious honour of being the first Uyghur with a Chinese passport to be handed a life sentence since the Cultural Revolution, represented the Uyghur diaspora, cut off from loved ones in their homeland. She spoke of the pain of separation from her father, who was arrested at Beijing airport eight years ago as they were on their way to the States, and later tried. His “crime” according to his daughter was to “foster dialogue” and advocate freedom of religious and cultural belief of all people. She has not heard from him for four years. After he was arrested, he was shackled and beaten for ten days, sent home on house arrest and some time later, frog-marched from his home by an armed gang of police into a black hole of internment.” I don’t even know if he is alive,” she reported bitterly.
She described the vast majority of Uyghurs, rounded up, corralled into camps and forced labour or sentenced to draconian periods of imprisonment, who have no one to speak up for them. “It is systematic and state sponsored human rights abuse,” she said bitterly. “Families have been separated, hearts have been broken, and families torn apart.” She expressed her frustration of having told this same story to anyone who will listen a few hundred times. “But nothing is changing,” she said. Appealing to world leaders and influencers represented at the event, she told them that the fate of her father and the Uyghurs was in the hands of the world. “This needs to stop,” she concluded emphatically.
The three permanent representatives to the UN from the UK, the United States and Germany, outlined the deteriorating human rights abuses, and confirmed that the evidence of atrocities being carried out against Uyghur and Turkic Muslim groups in North West China is irrefutable. British Ambassador to the UN, Barbara Woodward, said that all indications pointed to “systematic oppression, and the discrimination of specific ethnic groups—at scale.” She called on country representatives to ask China to allow the UN High Commissioner, “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to the region.
“To prevent her access begs the question ‘why?’” she insisted. “Here at the UN we must uphold the human rights and values and principles that are at the heart of the charter that begins, ‘we the peoples,’” she pointed out.
Linda Thomas Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, said the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the individual and not simply the state. Describing the targets of abuse as “heroes” rather than “victims,” she promised to “keep standing up and speaking out” until the Chinese government “stops the genocide and the crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.”
Christoph Heusgen, German ambassador to the UN, urged UN member states to join forces and persevere until Uyghurs lived in freedom and could exercise freedom of religion and speech.
Experts from Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and the World Uyghur Congress were united in their shock and condemnation of the CCP’s actions in Xinjiang, and urged member states not to be cowed by Beijing’s campaign of threats and intimidation and the “extraordinary lengths” it will go to, to whitewash its actions. Kenneth Roth, HRW executive director spoke of the “endless charade” of negotiations for unfettered access to the region, and the “embarrassing propaganda” about a Xinjiang “filled with people happily immersed in song and dance.” He condemned the power that China wields over the UN Secretary General, deplored Beijing’s ability to reduce every UN body to silence, and denounced China’s riding roughshod over not only its own people but the whole world with impunity.
“We must do more,” he urged. “Will we accept a UN Secretary General whose calculated strategy for a second term involves public silence on Xinjiang?” he asked, questioning the absence of Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner, at the day’s event.
Both Roth and the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnès Callamard, pointed out glaring inconsistencies in how the world confronts atrocities in so-called minor player countries, but shrinks from direct engagement with China. “The silence, fear and timidity of the UNHCR, the UN secretariat, and of many other states are frankly unacceptable and a breach of their mandate,” she said, pleading with nations not to allow critique by China to define their motivation.
She urged the UN to hold a special session or an urgent debate to establish an international mechanism to investigate the crimes. “Silence, heads in the sand, and unseemly concessions embolden China. They tarnish the human rights system, weaken the UN overall and betrays our duty to the people of China,” she said.
UN Special Rapporteur for Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, condemned the UN’s timidity and reluctance to be vocal and assertive over the urgent need for a fact finding mission to investigate the atrocities. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” he agreed. “And there’s a heck of a lot of fire right now affecting countless thousands of people, most of them minorities, most of them Muslim and most of them Uyghur.” He said it was time for the entire international community and the UN to seize the opportunity to protect those unable to speak for themselves.
Every one of the eighteen participant nations including Turkey, the Nordic and Baltic States, France, Canada, Japan, Slovakia, Australia, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, joined in condemnation of the human rights violations in North West China, and pressed for urgent action as a matter of high priority.
The lone dissenting voice from Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun began as an outburst vowing that the time had come for truth. He was aggrieved that his time had been cut short because participants “reject the truth.” He gave a spirited defence of Beijing, and claimed that accusations of “so-called” atrocities in Xinjiang were the “lies of the century, which never happened, and will never happen in China.” He said that China has “nothing to hide,” it “welcomes everyone,” but “opposes investigations based on lies.” He was aggrieved that evidence against the Chinese had been fabricated around presumption of guilt. “Xinjiang is a beautiful and prosperous place and your attempt of using it to contain China is doomed to fail,” he warned.
Pleading for his people who are suffering under a system that denies its own brutality and has managed to coerce vast tracts of the globe, including much of the Islamic world, to collude with its actions for fear of reprisals, Dolkun Isa, President of the WUC, begged the International community to take action. “Uyghurs cannot end this genocide alone,” he stressed.