(CNSNews.com) – A three-week session of the U.N. Human Rights Council ended on a jarring note on Friday when it was revealed that more than three dozen countries had signed a letter supporting China’s policies in Xinjiang.
According to Western governments and advocacy groups, more than a million minority Muslims are incarcerated in “re-education” camps there.
Beijing portrays its policies in the country’s far-western Xinjiang region as a program to de-radicalize Uighurs and other minority Muslims, as part of a broader campaign against what it calls the “three evils” of separatism, terrorism and extremism.
Critics see them as egregious human rights abuses, being carried out on a massive scale.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement last month accused the Communist Party leadership of “methodically attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith” in Xinjiang.
Western governments have long accused China of using counterterrorism as a pretext for repression against Uighurs, whether or not they support radical views or groups.
Ironically, around one-third of the signatories of the letter praising China’s Xinjiang policies are members or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc customarily outspoken about actions it views as hostile towards Muslims. They include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Syria, Tajikistan, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, and Togo.
According to Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based NGO U.N. Watch, other signatories – he called them an “axis of shame” – include Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Angola, Belarus, Burma, North Korea, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe.
At least 11 of the signatories are currently members of the HRC.
The letter, essentially echoing Beijing’s talking points, says, “Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers.”
It says there has been no terror attack in Xinjiang for three years and that its inhabitants enjoy a happier and more secure existence.
“We commend China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights by adhering to the people-centered development philosophy and protecting and promoting human rights through development,” it says.
The signatories also voiced opposition to “naming and shaming” countries.
(Israel is “named and shamed” at every regular HRC session, due to the existence of the council’s one and only agenda item dedicated to a country-specific situation. The Trump administration cited the HRC’s disproportionate targeting of Israel as one of its key reasons for its exit last summer.)
Chinese Ambassador Xu Chen, speaking at the HRC on Friday, said his government warmly welcomed the support of the signatories of the letter, who “highly spoke of China’s progress in the field of human rights in Xinjiang, and the success in the field of fighting terrorism and extremism.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Xu listed the principles China expects the HRC to uphold in its work – “objectivity, transparency, non-selectivity, constructiveness, non-confrontation, and non-politicization.”
He complained that some Western delegations “driven by a political agenda,” had written an open letter of their own several days earlier, “in which they distorted reality on the ground in Xinjiang and made unfounded allegations.”
(The 22 signatories of that letter included Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and European nations.)
Xu said those countries should “discard their prejudices” and “stop politicizing human rights issues.”
“We have repeatedly stressed that what is going on in Xinjiang is entirely an internal affair of China, and it involves China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity,” he said.
Xu described the camps as “vocational training centers,” and said their existence was supported by “all the people of Xinjiang and the rest of China.”
“Under the strong leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, all the ethnic groups in Xinjiang are moving proudly to the year 2020 when China will become a well-off society, and further towards a bright future.”
‘Political and cultural indoctrination’
Earlier in the HRC session, during a segment when representatives of accredited NGO are able to make statements, Neuer challenged the OIC over its silence about China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs.
“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?” he asked.
OIC leaders held a key summit last May, but while end-of-summit documents commented on numerous situations around the world affecting Muslims, they made no mention of Xinjiang or Uighurs.
When OIC foreign ministers met two months earlier, one of the documents they produced said the Islamic bloc “commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens.”
Many OIC members have strong economic ties with Beijing.
Last summer, the vice-chair of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Gay McDougall, told a meeting in Geneva, “There are estimates that upwards of a million people [in Xinjiang] are being held in so-called counter-extremism centers and another two million have been forced into so-called re-education camps, for political and cultural indoctrination.”
The region was briefly independent under the name East Turkistan in the 1930s-40s before falling under communist Chinese rule in 1949, a year before China occupied Tibet.
Resource-rich Xinjiang is China’s largest administrative division, comprising about one-sixth of the country’s territory.
Millions of ethnic Han Chinese were relocated into the region. Uighurs now comprise just 46 percent of the region’s population, and Han Chinese almost 40 percent.