Countries call out China rights abuses at UN

US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the virtual event that members had to speak out about China’s abuses in Xinjiang. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer, File)

Dozens of countries including the US, UK and Germany have taken on China for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang at a meeting at the United Nations on Wednesday, despite China’s appeals they do not attend the event.

The virtual UN meeting was held to discuss how the UN can address China's human rights abuses in the region, where Beijing has drawn wide condemnation from Western states and rights groups who accuse authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities.

"We will keep standing up and speaking out until China's government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang," US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the virtual event. Reports of abuse include torture, forced sterilisation and systematic rape.

Convened by the US, UK and Germany and co-sponsored by several other nations and NGOs, the event prompted anger from Beijing, who reportedly urged member states to avoid the meeting and dubbed it “politically motivated”.

In a note sent last Friday, China's mission to the UN expressed strong opposition to the event, and accused the organisers of using "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. "China consistently denies the accusations made against it and claims the camps are training facilities to combat religious extremism.

UK ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time”, and the new secretary general of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, told participants that an estimated one million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been detained there.

“For years, Chinese officials have tried to cow UN member states into silence about the horrific abuses the authorities are inflicting on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, a co-sponsor of the event. “There is extraordinary momentum as governments around the world seek to hold the Chinese government accountable for human rights violations.”

There were also repeated calls for China to allow immediate and unfettered access to UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who was not present at the event. The high commissioner said in September that she was discussing a possible visit to Xinjiang with China, however this has yet to be confirmed.