Dozens of countries in a United Nations meeting on human rights expressed grave concern Tuesday over human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, calling on Beijing to provide “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to China's northwest border region.
Some 39 countries including Turkey, Germany, the U.S. and the U.K. urged Chinese authorities to respect the rights of over 1 million Uighur Muslims who are being kept in Chinese concentration camps, prompting an angry response from authorities in Beijing.
“We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the recent developments in Hong Kong,” Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said.
The declaration, signed mainly by European countries, stated that violations of religious freedom, forced labor and involuntary sterilization are the main key indicators of criminal activity by Chinese officials.
"There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association and expression as well as on Uighur culture," Heusgen said. "Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uighurs and other minorities, and more reports are emerging of forced labor and forced birth control, including sterilization."
Turkish committee also voiced Ankara’s concerns over the human rights situation in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
"While respecting China’s territorial integrity, the expectations of our country and the international community from Chinese authorities is that Xinjiang’s Uighur Turks and other Muslim minorities live in peace as equal citizens of China and that their cultural and religious identities are respected, as well as guaranteed," the committee said.
It was stated that Turkey, as a country with ethnic, religious and cultural ties with Uighur Turks, is monitoring reports on human rights violations against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities with concern.
Turkey reminded China of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s (CERD) eight recommendations made in August 2018. “The committee's concerns and suggestions are also valid today and steps have to be taken in this manner,” it said.
Meanwhile, China's ambassador to the U.N. hit back, calling the accusation “groundless” and claiming that the declaration is aimed at “provoking confrontation” among U.N. countries.
“They spread false information and political virus, smeared China, and interfered in China’s internal affairs. China firmly opposes and rejects that,” Zhang Jun said.
He noted that human rights achievements in China are "widely recognized" and urged the U.S. to "take a good look in the mirror," referring to recent racial discrimination issues in the country.
"Millions of Americans have cried out 'I can't breathe' and 'Black lives matter,'" Jun said, referring to slogans by protesters against the death of George Floyd in the U.S. state of Minnesota.
The Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uighurs. The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45% of Xinjiang's population, has long accused Chinese authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination. About 7% of the Muslim population in Xinjiang has been incarcerated in an expanding network of "political reeducation" camps, according to U.S. officials and U.N. experts. Over 380 suspected detention facilities have been identified in the Xinjiang region, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) reported last month.