As Beijing tries to avoid further criticism of its policies against the Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities, calls for tougher measures are growing louder.
Diplomats and human rights activists are increasing pressure on the United Nations to crack down on China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups, as Beijing tries to fend off another probe into what’s happening in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
The call for action came as world leaders arrived in New York City for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), and two weeks after the UN Human Rights Council issued a landmark report stating that China may be “crimes against humanity”. in Xinjiang.
“Inaction is no longer possible,” said Fernand de Varennes, the UN’s special rapporteur on minority rights, at the forum sponsored by the Atlantic Council and Human Rights Watch. “If we let this go unpunished, what kind of message will be sent?”
Jeffrey Prescott, a US deputy ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that the institution’s integrity was at stake in its response to China.
“How these atrocities are addressed ultimately depends on the credibility of this system, on the credibility of our international system itself,” he said. “It is deeply discouraging to see a country so central to the creation of the modern UN system, and enjoying its status as a permanent member of the Security Council, so grossly violating its commitments.”
Since the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination first revealed in 2018 that more than a million people are being held in a network of detention centers across Xinjiang, academics, exiles and the media have written about abuses ranging from forced labor to segregation from Families uncovered destruction of culture and religious identity of Uyghurs.
Beijing has acknowledged the existence of the camps, which are vocational training centers necessary to deal with “extremism”.
She reacted angrily to the release of the Human Rights Council report, calling it “a patchwork of misinformation” and portraying it as an invention of Western nations and their supporters.
Beijing issued its own 122-page rebuttal, and its diplomats are now lobbiing others to try to block the possibility of a further scrutiny of its campaign in Xinjiang by the council, with China’s ambassador in Geneva threatening to stop working with the government human rights office – without giving details of how.
The Human Rights Council meets in Geneva, while the UN General Assembly holds its annual meeting in New York.
Beijing traditionally looks to the UN, where it can count on support from countries it is friendly with and in many cases financially backed, as a counterweight to US-led blocs like the G7, which have become increasingly hostile to China in recent years became.
“China sees the UN as an important forum that it can use to advance its strategic interests and goals and to reform the global order,” said Helena Legarda of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.
While hailing the UN as a model of multilateralism, China rejects criticism or decisions that the ruling Communist Party sees as contrary to its interests.
Michelle Bachelet, the former UN human rights chief, had been pushing for “unhindered access” to Xinjiang since 2018, but she ended up making a tightly controlled visit in May as Beijing pushed hard to block the UN report.
After the Rights Bureau finally announced its findings on Aug. 31, Chinese diplomats led a joint statement backed by 30 countries including Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, which condemned “disinformation” behind the report and the “wrong conclusions” drawn.
Like the United States, China feels some freedom to ignore UN institutions if it chooses: under Donald Trump, the US withdrew from the Human Rights Council in 2018, accusing it of anti-Israel bias, while returning to the Human Rights Council under Joe Biden 47- board this year.
Like the US, China is using its power to assert itself and effectively overturned a World Health Organization (WHO) investigation into the origins of COVID-19, which emerged in its central city of Wuhan in late 2019 before spreading across the world with special needs .
Ken Roth, former executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Chinese President Xi Jinping is trying to redefine human rights, in part by making economic development a key criterion.
China, Roth said, “is trying more than any government in the past to undermine the UN human rights system” — by pressuring UN officials, retaliating against witnesses and trying to bribe governments.
“One of their top priorities right now, maybe after Taiwan, is to avoid a condemnation by the Human Rights Council,” Roth said. Beijing claims the self-governing island of Taiwan as its own and does not rule out the use of force to seize the territory.