50 countries urge China to release detained Uyghurs

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Fifty mainly Western countries urged China on Monday to fully implement all recommendations in a U.N. report accusing the country of possible “crimes against humanity" against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups, including taking prompt steps to release all those “arbitrarily deprived of their liberty” in the far western province of Xinjiang.

Canada’s U.N. Ambassador Bob Rae read the statement at a meeting of the General Assembly’s human rights committee expressing grave concern at the human rights situation in China, and Beijing's failure so far to discuss the report's findings on the ongoing violations against the Uyghurs and other Muslim groups.

Human rights groups have accused China of sweeping a million or more people from the minority groups into detention camps where many have said they were tortured, sexually assaulted, and forced to abandon their language and religion. The camps were just one part of what the rights organizations have called a ruthless campaign against extremism in Xinjiang that also included draconian birth control policies and all-encompassing restrictions on people’s movement.

The assessment from the Geneva-based U.N. human rights office was released in the final minutes of High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s four-year term on Aug. 31. It largely corroborated earlier reporting by researchers, advocacy groups and the news media.

The report concluded that China has committed serious human rights violations under its anti-terrorism and anti-extremism policies and called for “urgent attention” from the U.N., the world community and China itself to address them.

The statement from the 50 countries calls the report “an independent, authoritative assessment that relies extensively on China’s own records” and “makes an important contribution to the existing evidence of serious and systematic human rights violations in China.”

In light of “the gravity” of the report’s assessment, the countries expressed concern “that China has so far refused to discuss its findings” and urged the government “to fully implement the recommendations.”

In addition to calling for fulfillment of the recommendation to release of all those arbitrarily detained the 50 countries urged China to clarify “the fate and whereabouts of missing family members” and arrange safe contacts and reunions.

In response to the statement, the Uyghur Human Rights Project tweeted that “A growing number of UN member states are pushing back on China’s treatment of Uyghurs.”

Britain’s Foreign Minister James Cleverly tweeted that the statement “supported by a record 50 countries across 6 continents, demonstrates growing breadth of international concern.”

The 50 countries that signed on to the statement were: Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Eswatini, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Montenegro, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkiye, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Last week, the U.S., UK and others organized a meeting following up on the former high commissioner’s report that included U.N. ambassadors, Uyghur human rights advocates, the U.N. special investigator on minority rights and Human Rights Watch.

China’s U.N. Mission sent a letter to all U.N. member states expressing its “resolute opposition” to the meeting and strongly recommending that they boycott “this anti-China event.”

“It is a politically motivated event,” said the letter, obtained by The Associated Press. “The co-sponsors use human rights issues as a political tool to interfere in China’s internal affairs like Xinjiang, to create division and turbulence and disrupt China’s development.”

Calling the event “disinformation propaganda,” the letter accused the sponsors of violating “the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter and norms of international relations.”