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China’s Mass Incarceration of Uyghurs Overshadows UN Council Agenda


FILE - Overview of the session of the Human Rights Council during the speech of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the United Nations in Geneva, Feb. 27, 2020.

China’s mass incarceration of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities is not on the U.N. Human Rights Council’s packed agenda for its session starting Monday. However, the controversial policy threatens to overshadow all the other issues to be examined during the council’s monthlong session.

Human rights activists are clamoring for China to be held accountable for its alleged systematic, widespread abuse of more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

These calls have grown more insistent since the publication August 31 of a long-awaited U.N. report accusing China of torture or ill-treatment and other violations that could amount to crimes against humanity.

Michelle Bachelet issued the report just minutes before stepping down as U.N. high commissioner for human rights. In departing remarks, she called on the Human Rights Council to keep abreast of the situation in Xinjiang.

In a briefing last week, council President Federico Villegas diplomatically sidestepped questions pertaining to the possible convening of a special session on China. He said the council did not mandate the report.

“I am the President of a council of 47 members, and it is state-driven. They have the prerogative, each of the 47, to ask for the council to do whatever they deem necessary. So, it will be up to the states to decide how to follow up that report or any other report that is brought to the attention of the council in different formats,” he said.

China’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Chen Xu, said China will firmly oppose any efforts to use human rights as a political tool to interfere in its internal affairs. He said nearly 100 countries have expressed their support of what he called China’s just position. He added the developing world will reject all anti-China initiatives by Western countries at the upcoming session of the Human Rights Council.

“I should say any kind of anti-China actions is again doomed to failure. So, in short, we strongly opposing the assessment, the so-called assessment report. And we will strongly oppose any move to move this assessment report, launch any kind of motion or joint actions against us,” he said.

Chen said China was ready to establish a working relationship with the newly appointed high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk. However, he said Turk must strictly observe his mandate, and conduct business in an “impartial,” nonpoliticized manner for that relationship to work.

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