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Dozens of countries, but not Israel, urge China to respect Uighurs’ rights

Joint call signed by 43 countries notes reports of re-education camps used against minorities in Xinjiang; Jerusalem backed similar statement in June, reportedly under US pressure

A guard tower and barbed wire fence surround a detention facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region. AP found that the Chinese government was carrying out a birth control program aimed at Uighurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, even as some of the country's Han majority was encouraged to have more children. The measures included detention in prisons and camps, such as this facility in Artux, as punishment for having too many children, Dec. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
A guard tower and barbed wire fence surround a detention facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region. AP found that the Chinese government was carrying out a birth control program aimed at Uighurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, even as some of the country's Han majority was encouraged to have more children. The measures included detention in prisons and camps, such as this facility in Artux, as punishment for having too many children, Dec. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

UNITED NATIONS — Forty-three countries on Thursday called on China at the UN to “ensure full respect for the rule of law” with regard to the Muslim Uighurs community in Xinjiang, where respect for human rights remains “particularly” worrying.

“We call on China to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and her office,” the countries said in a joint statement, read at the United Nations by France.

“We are particularly concerned about the situation in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” the statement said, citing “credible” reports that “indicate the existence of a large network of ‘political reeducation’ camps where over a million people have been arbitrarily detained.”

The declaration, signed by the United States, European countries, Asian states and other spoke of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence and forced separation of children, which it said “disproportionately continues to target Uighurs and members of other minorities.”

Israel was not among the signatories. In June, it was one of 41 countries that called on China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” so independent observers could visit Xinjiang. The decision by Jerusalem, which had in the past shied from criticizing Beijing, was reportedly the result of US pressure on the matter.

China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun denounced what he termed the “lies” and “a plot to hurt China.” He quickly stepped in to reject “unfounded accusations.”

“Xinjiang enjoys development and the people are emancipating themselves every day and are proud of the progress made,” he said, supported by Cuba, which criticized any interference in China’s internal affairs.

In 2019 and 2020, a similar declaration was made public in the same way by Britain and Germany. After garnering 23 backers two years ago, the declaration gained the support of 39 countries last year. They were joined this year by Turkey, Eswatini, Portugal and the Czech Republic, according to diplomats.

On the other hand, Haiti dropped its backing for the declaration after its relations with China were complicated by Port-au-Prince recognizing Taiwan.

Switzerland also dropped its signature from the statement because, diplomatic sources said, it recently hosted a high-level meeting between the United States and China and decided to prioritize its role as facilitator between these two powers rather than signing the annual declaration calling for respect human rights in Xinjiang.

According to diplomats, China is increasing pressure every year to dissuade UN members from signing the declarations, threatening not to renew a peace mission in a given country or preventing others from building a new embassy in China.

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