UN Event Turns Spotlight On Plight Of Uyghurs

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2021-05-13 HKT 00:52

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  • Uyghurs and other students attend a class at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute during a government organized visit for foreign journalists in Urumqi. Critics have accused Xinjiang authorities of torturing Uyghurs and other minorities. File photo: AP

    Uyghurs and other students attend a class at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute during a government organized visit for foreign journalists in Urumqi. Critics have accused Xinjiang authorities of torturing Uyghurs and other minorities. File photo: AP

Dozens of countries raised awareness about China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang at a meeting at the United Nations on Wednesday, angering Beijing, which had lobbied member states to stay away from what it described as an anti-China event.

"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.

Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.

"In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized," Thomas-Greenfield said.

Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there was an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities who have been arbitrarily detained.

In a note to UN member states last week, China's UN mission rejected the accusations as "lies and false allegations" and accused the organizers of being "obsessed with provoking confrontation with China." China urged countries "NOT to participate in this anti-China event."

The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany's UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced "massive Chinese threats," but did not elaborate.

British UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as "one of the worst human rights crises of our time," adding: "The evidence ... points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups."

She called for China to allow "immediate, meaningful and unfettered access" to UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event. A spokesperson for Bachelet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"I'm sure she's busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn't think of anything more important to do than to join you here today," Roth told the event. (Reuters)