Guterres says he expects access to investigate claims of abuse of Muslim Uyghurs
By Alim Seytoff
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during the 11th emergency special session of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S. February 28, 2022
UPDATED at 11:26 A.M. ET on 2022-03-02
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday again called on China to allow outside officials to visit Xinjiang to observe how the government is treating Uyghur Muslims there.
“I recently returned from a visit to China, where I expressed my expectation that the current discussions will allow for a credible visit by the high commissioner to China, including Xinjiang Autonomous Region,” Guterres said during his opening remarks on the first day of the 49th session of the Human Rights Council.
High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet is scheduled to update the council on March 7 on her attempts to ascertain the situation Xinjiang, a spokesperson from her office told Voice of America (VOA).
China has drawn international condemnation for its treatment of the Muslim community, including well-documented allegations that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs have been detained in concentration camps and forced to work at Chinese factories. Various legislative bodies have accused China of committing a genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
China disputes the charge, claiming the camps are vocational training centers designed to expand economic opportunities. It defends its policies by arguing they are related to its counterterrorism efforts.
In an address to the Human Rights Council, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that in China, "the government continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other minority groups." He also urged Bachelet to release her report on the situation there without delay.
China stuck to its long-held stance that accusations of genocide and other rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang were lies.
“The door of Xinjiang is open, and we welcome people from all countries to visit Xinjiang and have exchanges,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said while addressing the session over video. “The so-called genocide, forced labor and religious repression, are lies that are completely fabricated.”
Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, a Munich-based Uyghur rights activist group, commended Guterres for urging China to allow Bachelet to visit Xinjiang. But he said Wang Yi’s comments were insincere.
“Wang Yi is only paying lip service to the mounting international pressure over China’s ongoing genocide of Uyghurs entering their fifth year,” Dolkun Isa told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“China has continued to play games to intentionally delay a meaningful visit by the high commissioner since 2019. Only an unconditional and unfettered visit to all the concentration camps, forced labor camps, prisons, survivors and victims of Uyghur families in East Turkestan by the high commissioner is meaningful and credible,” he said, using the name for Xinjiang favored by those who believe it should be independent from China.
VOA reported that Uyghur rights groups doubted the situation in Xinjiang would change, even if U.N. officials are allowed to visit.
Abdulhakim Idris, the executive director for the Washington-based Center for Uyghur Studies, told VOA that Bachelet has not pressed the Uyghur human rights situation forcefully enough since coming to office in September 2018.
Idris said that sources told him that she disregarded documents and reports detailing the situation in China.
“Every year Uyghurs hoped that on behalf of the U.N., Bachelet would say something about the Uyghurs’ dire human rights situation,” Idris told VOA. “All these years, Bachelet had been careful not to anger China, that’s why she has been delaying this urgent report.”
Bachelet’s office disputed the accusation. Ever since allegations of “human rights violations in Xinjiang emerged, the U.N. Human Rights Office has been consistently gathering, documenting and analyzing the information that has come to our attention,” the office told VOA.
The office also told VOA that it has been working to ensure a Xinjiang visit would not be superficial.
At the opening of the Human Rights Council last September in Geneva, Bachelet said that she regrets not making progress on “efforts to seek meaningful access to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”
"In the meantime, my office is finalizing its assessment of the available information on allegations of serious human rights violations in that region, with a view to making it public,” she said.
Translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
CLARIFICATION: The updated version adds comments by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.