United Nations rights chief Volker Turk on Tuesday demanded action from Beijing to address “grave concerns" over the human rights situation in China’s Xinjiang province.
Turk has been under pressure from Western nations and rights organisations to take a firm stand on Xinjiang following a bombshell report by his predecessor which cited possible crimes against humanity in the far-western region.
The UN is concerned about the protection of minorities such as the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and Tibetans, Turk said in his speech to the first UN Human Rights Council session of the year.
“Regarding China, we have opened up channels of communication with a range of actors to follow up on a variety of human rights issues," Turk said.
“In the Xinjiang region, my office has documented grave concerns — notably large-scale arbitrary detentions and ongoing family separations — and has made important recommendations that require concrete follow-up."
He also voiced unease over restrictions of civic discourse in China and the far-reaching national security law in Hong Kong imposed in 2020 to stamp out dissent following the city’s huge and often violent pro-democracy demonstrations.
“We also have concerns about the severe restriction of civic space more generally, including the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and lawyers, and the impact of the National Security Law in Hong Kong."
Torture allegations ‘credible’
It was Turk’s first set-piece speech to the council in Geneva since taking office as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in October.
Just minutes before her term ended on August 31, Turk’s predecessor Michelle Bachelet published a long-awaited report on Xinjiang.
It detailed a string of rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, highlighting “credible" allegations of widespread torture, arbitrary detention and violations of religious and reproductive rights.
Beijing vehemently rejects the charges and insists it is running vocational training centres in the region to counter extremism.
US-led Western countries sought in October to hold a debate on the report at the UN’s 47-country rights council.
But intense Chinese lobbying saw nations vote 19-17 against discussing the findings, with 11 abstaining.
Amnesty International chief Agnes Callamard said the vote was “unconscionable" and called on Turk to publicly put his weight behind the Xinjiang report.
Turk “will be assessed on the basis of his work and commitment to the Xinjiang people and to his courage in tackling China," she told reporters ahead of his speech.
US ambassador Michele Taylor told reporters last month that Washington was intent on continuing “to shine a spotlight on documented abuses of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang."
“I’m especially grateful to High Commissioner Turk, who has made a commitment to me and others that he will stand behind his office’s report."
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