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Ukraine Turns on China at U.N. Over Human Rights Concerns in Xinjiang

By John Feng

November 1, 2022

Ukraine joined a group of mostly Western nations at the United Nations that called on Monday for China to act on recommendations to revise its policies against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in its far-western Xinjiang province. The move was a notable shift in Kyiv's otherwise cautious approach to diplomacy with Beijing.

The 50-nation joint statement delivered by Bob Rae, Canada's ambassador to the U.N., said the countries were "gravely concerned about the human rights situation" in China, before calling attention to the U.N. human rights office's August 31 report on conditions in Xinjiang.

For years, human rights groups and researchers have accused China's government of suppressing the personal and religious freedoms of Uyghurs and other minorities in the region, where a counterterrorism campaign has targeted millions of Muslims for about five years.

Assessments by the United States and other governments have determined that the treatment of Uyghurs—including mass detention, reeducation and gender-based violence, among other allegations—amount to "genocide."

"The assessment finds that the scale of the arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang 'may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,'" Rae told the General Assembly's human rights committee.

"As an independent, authoritative assessment that relies extensively on China's own records, it makes an important contribution to the existing evidence of serious and systematic human rights violations in China," the joint statement said.

The group of 50 nations urged Beijing to "uphold its international human rights obligations and to fully implement the recommendations" of the human rights office report.

The U.N. report, which was published on the last day of former human rights chief Michelle Bachelet's mandate, didn't use the term genocide but concluded that Beijing's policies constituted serious rights violations.

It called for the release of detained Uyghurs in Xinjiang and asked other countries not to repatriate individuals vulnerable to political persecution in China.

A demonstrator wearing a mask painted with the colors of the East Turkestan flag participates in a protest by supporters of the Uyghurs on April 1, 2021, in Istanbul. Turkey and Ukraine were among 50 mostly Western nations that signed on Monday a joint statement at the U.N. condemning China's repression of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region.


Ukraine, like Turkey, was a standout signatory of the joint statement, which, at 50 countries, had the largest number of U.N. member states to ever collectively condemn China's repression of Muslims, according to rights group Human Rights Watch.

Kyiv has practiced careful diplomacy with Beijing since it was invaded by Russia on February 24. Despite China's deepening strategic partnership with Russia, Ukraine is cautiously optimistic that Beijing can play a role in ending the war or, at the very least, won't provide Russian forces with material support.

Ukraine's decision to sign on to the joint statement about Xinjiang was a notable if not significant departure from past attempts to avoid crossing Beijing's red lines—although, to be sure, Kyiv has received little in return for its discretion.

There were indications Ukraine was perhaps ready to shift its position on China, at least at the U.N., last month, when a tight 19-17 vote at the Human Rights Council narrowly defeated a U.S.-led motion to debate the human rights office's findings about Xinjiang.

Ukraine was one of 11 nations to abstain from the vote, a move that raised eyebrows among the Western allies that have staunchly backed it since the Russian invasion. The following day, Kyiv's representative said his country had changed its mind and instead wanted to vote in favor of the debate, but it was too late to change the voting record.


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