Islamic Bloc Challenged Over Its Silence on Uighurs: ‘If They Truly Care About Muslims …’

By Patrick Goodenough | July 3, 2019 | 5:01am EDT
A facility north of Kashgar, Xinjiang, believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

( – The bloc of Islamic nations is an outspoken contingent at the U.N. Human Rights Council but was challenged there this week for its silence about the plight of at least one million minority Muslims in detention camps in China’s Xinjiang region.

“If they truly care about Muslims, and for their religious freedoms, why has Pakistan and the Islamic group failed to introduce a single resolution” about China’s persecution of Muslims, asked Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a non-governmental organization.

The target of his remarks, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), wields considerable influence at the Geneva-based HRC. The council has 47 members, and the OIC has accounted for no fewer than 13 of them – and as many as 18 – in any one year of the council’s 14-year existence.

This year, OIC countries make up 15 (31.9 percent) of the 47 members. (They are Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, Togo, and Tunisia.)

With Pakistan generally at the helm, the Islamic states have helped to guide the agenda, and are largely responsible for the HRC’s disproportionate targeting of Israel, and a controversial push to outlaw “defamation” of religion.

Communist China’s treatment of ethnic Uighurs and other minority Muslims in Xinjiang, however, has drawn little public attention from the OIC.

Neuer began his statement by naming five countries identified in the latest U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) annual report as egregious religious freedom violators.

“As documented therein, I wish to list five of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom: China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Eritrea,” he said.

“Second, I will now list five members who sit here on this U.N. Human Rights Council: China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Eritrea.”

Neuer pointed out that the HRC is charged with protecting rights including religious freedom, “as guaranteed under article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

He also reminded the council that, under its 2006 founding charter, members have the duty to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

“So, we’d like to know: Why has there never been a single resolution for religious minorities oppressed by council members like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia?” Neuer asked.

He then noted that Pakistan had spoken earlier in the day, on behalf of the OIC.

“They spoke of Islamophobia and of criticism of religion,” Neuer recalled. “Yet if they truly care about Muslims, and for their religious freedoms, why has Pakistan and the Islamic group failed to introduce a single resolution, a single urgent session, a single commission of inquiry for one million Muslims currently being detained in camps and persecuted because of their religion – by China?”

‘Commends the efforts of … China in providing care to its Muslim citizens’

The mass incarceration of Muslims in camps in Xinjiang has drawn growing international alarm over the past year.

In a statement a month ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Communist Party leadership of “methodically attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith, including through the detention of more than one million members of Muslim minority groups” in Xinjiang.

The OIC, however, has been largely silent.

OIC leaders held a summit in Mecca in May, and numerous other situations around the world did feature, neither a 19-page communique nor a four-page final declaration mentioned China, Xinjiang or Uighurs.

Two months earlier, OIC foreign ministers met in Abu Dhabi, and issued a 3,200-word declaration which, again, did not raise the issue.

In a separate document on resolutions relating to Muslims in non-Muslim countries, the ministers did include one paragraph on China. It said the OIC “commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens; and looks forward to further cooperation between the OIC and the People’s Republic of China.”

The OIC secretariat in Jeddah issues statements regularly on a range of issues affecting Muslims, but in a search on its website, the most recent statement voicing concern for Uighurs was issued in June 2015.

China is the leading trading partner of at least 20 of the 57 OIC members. Pakistan historically an ally of China, is a key partner in Beijing’s massive infrastructure program known as the Belt-and-Road initiative.

Uighurs are an ethnic Turkic group, and one Islamic state that has raised the issue in Geneva is Turkey.

“We encourage Chinese authorities and expect that universal human rights, including freedom of religion, are respected and full protection of the cultural identities of the Uighurs and other Muslims is ensured,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at the HRC in February. He did not mention the detention camps.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosts Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Beijing on Tuesday. (Photo: Presidency of Turkey)

On Tuesday, however, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, Chinese state media quoted Erdogan as expressing understanding for Chinese policies in Xinjiang.

“Erdogan said that Turkey firmly supports the one-China policy, and that it is a fact that the people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang are leading a happy life amid China's development and prosperity,” China Daily reported.

In their reports on Erdogan’s visit, neither Turkey’s state news agency nor Erdogan’s official website mentioned the topic.

China portrays the camps as re-education and training facilities that have helped to de-radicalize the Muslim population.

“By setting up vocational education and training centers in accordance with the law, we aim to educate and save those who were influenced by religious extremism and committed minor offences,” a senior government official in Xinjiang told the HRC last week.

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