Human Rights Groups Demand United Nations Sanction China for Uyghur Repression

John Haughey
By John Haughey
September 21, 2023China News
Human Rights Groups Demand United Nations Sanction China for Uyghur Repression
Members of the Uyghurs demonstrate in front of the White House in Washington on July 5, 2023. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

While the United Nations was convening its 78th General Assembly on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with an address from President Joe Biden on Sept. 19, another forum was gathered in Midtown’s St. Regis Hotel.

That group noted that in the year since the international body concluded that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may be engaging in “crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and other Muslim Turkic peoples, nothing has happened.

Nothing, that is, except continued reports of CCP “crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and other Muslim Turkic peoples, forum speakers said.

“You know, I think the stories about Xinjiang have faded a little from the headlines or from the front pages. Despite all of the different policies and proposals and speeches, it has slipped down a little bit as a political priority,” said The Economist Senior Editor Gady Epstein, who moderated a nearly three-hour panel discussion designed to prod “a robust international response to the atrocities against the Uyghurs.”

The event was organized by the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Litigation Project, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.

Human rights and Uyghur rights advocacy groups have criticized the United Nations for failing to take concrete action to hold China accountable for documented abuses.

They claim that it has done little since the Aug. 31, 2022, release of a comprehensive report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR).

Activists set up a mock Uyghur forced labor camp outside the Apple flagship store in Washington on March 4, 2022. They call on Apple to stop using Uyghurs for forced labor. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

This report concluded that CCP policies targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities in western China’s Xinjiang region “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

“Despite the report’s strong recommendations to Chinese authorities to halt their widespread campaign of abuses, the atrocities against Uyghur and other Turkic people persist,” the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Litigation Project maintains, including concerns cited in 2023 by the current U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk about “large-scale arbitrary detentions and ongoing family separations” in the Xinjiang region.

“The UN’s report was a necessary wake-up call to the international community, but the on-the-ground reality of mass imprisonment, forced labor, family separations, and suppression of Uyghur language, culture, religion, and identity shows that there is still much the international community needs to do to stop the ongoing atrocities, reunite families with their loved ones, and reject the Chinese government’s impunity to commit crimes against humanity,” the project concludes.

“It is a tragedy that what brings us together is a pressing need for international action against the Chinese government’s relentless abuses of Uyghurs and other target communities,” said Rayhan Asat, a Uyghur human rights lawyer and nonresident senior fellow at The Atlantic Council, whose brother has been “suffering in a concentration camp since he was unjustly detained in 2016.”

“China has robbed us of today’s months and years of being with our loved ones through mass detention, imprisonment, lengthy sentences, and a separation,” she said.

“The magnitude of pain and trauma China has inflicted upon families like mine [and] upon the Uyghur community as a whole is immeasurable and guaranteed to reverberate for generations to come.”

CCP Objected to Discussion

While various governments sent representatives to the discussion—including the United States in the person of U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth van Schaack—there was little official U.N. representation. Still, the CCP was apparently interested in the event.

The CCP warned U.N. member states not to attend the discussion in a Sept. 14 statement issued by China’s U.N. mission, referring to the event’s three cosponsor nonprofits as “notorious anti-China organizations” that are interfering in China’s internal affairs that the CCP says are geared to economic development and vocational skills training for Uyghurs.

“They are obsessed with fabricating lies and spreading malicious disinformation about Xinjiang with no respect for truth, and are plotting to use human rights issues as a political tool to undermine Xinjiang’s stability and disrupt China’s peaceful development,” China’s U.N. mission said.

Peter Loeffelhardt, chief of the German Federal Foreign Office Directorate for Asia and the Pacific Division, dismissed the CCP’s claims “with one obvious central reminder: human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated. They are not subject to a hierarchy and cannot be separated from other topics.”

“It is a false and dangerous narrative to say that human rights is ‘an obstacle’ to development,” he continued.

“Human Rights always need to be part of the discussion. When we address human rights violations, bilaterally and multilaterally, it is not an interference in internal affairs.”

The CCP’s alleged human rights violations do not end at China’s shores, Mr. Loeffelhardt noted and Ms. Asat confirmed with personal testimony.

“We must not overlook what is happening at home,” he said. “We have to ensure that victims’ activists and everyone who speaks up about possible human rights violations in China can enjoy the fundamental rights in our own countries without interference or intimidation by foreign entities.”

‘China’s Long-Arm Reach’

Ms. Asat said she’s one of those victims’ activists “walking on a tightrope” advocating for Uyghurs while being harassed by the CCP in the United States.

“Even Americans living in America are still subject to China’s long-arm reach. What they are using is our families, our loved ones, their lives—they’re literally keeping them as a hostage,” she said, describing how Chinese officials “let you hear your loved one’s voice for a second, and you know, they’re alive. So then you must be watching your actions for what comes next.”

This type of “transnational repression, international repression beyond its borders” doesn’t qualify for the United Nations’ current definition of human rights violations, Ms. Asat said.

“It’s very depressing but outrageous that none of that meets the definition of any international norms and laws that China has breached,” she said.

“So, I think, there has to be a discussion about codifying these kinds of state actions that are taking place outside their borders as transnational repression and making it part of the international system of accountability.”

Speaking for the United States, Ms. Van Schaack said: “Notwithstanding [the CCP’s] continued attempts to intimidate and to silence those speaking out on human rights with yet another example of a global campaign of transnational repression, I’m also pleased to see that their efforts have only increased international scrutiny on the situation within Xinjiang, and particularly the atrocities against the Uyghur people.

“Now, while it remains very challenging to create pathways to justice for [the CCP’s] atrocities in Xinjiang, the high commissioner’s assessment does offer a solid foundation for further action, so we must not stand idly by or be silent or bound to China’s pressure to simply look away.

“The United States,” she added, “has chosen to name these atrocities as they should be—as genocide and as crimes against humanity. And as they continue, the world must stand firm against them in both word and deed.”

Waving a copy of the Chinese U.N. mission’s Sept. 14 “do not attend letter,” Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson said, “Any government that’s going to go out of its way to bother doing this, first of all, has no business sitting on the UN Human Rights Council.

“But also,” she concluded, the letter is “essentially confirming that [China] has got a lot to hide and it knows it. Part of our purpose, our job, is to keep holding and defending this space until Uyghurs can do it themselves at home.”

From The Epoch Times

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