UN calls on China to free 1 million Uighurs from alleged re-education camps

United Nations’ human rights experts have voiced alarm over alleged Chinese political re-education camps for Muslim Uighurs and called for the immediate release of those detained on the grounds of what China describes as “countering terrorism”.


The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination cited estimates that up to 1 million Uighurs may be held involuntarily in extra-legal detention in China’s far western Xinjiang province.

Its findings were issued after a two-day review of China’s record, the first since 2009, earlier this month.

China’s Foreign Ministry rejected the allegations at the time, and said anti-China forces were behind the criticism of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang.

It has never officially confirmed the existence of detention centres there.

Since last spring, several hundred thousand and possibly more than 1 million ethnic minorities — mostly Uighur — in Xinjiang have been interned in mass detention facilities.

China has said Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.

But the panel decried China’s, “broad definition of terrorism and vague references to extremism and unclear definition of separatism in Chinese legislation”.

This could be used against those peacefully exercising their rights and facilitate “criminal profiling” of ethnic and religious minorities, including Uighurs, Buddhist Tibetans and Mongolians, it said.

In its conclusions, the panel said it was alarmed by, “numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism”.

During the review, the experts said they had received many credible reports that about 1 million Uighurs were held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”.

A map of Xinjiang and surrounding regions
Photo: Bordered by eight countries including the former Soviet Central Asian republics, Xinjiang is China’s largest province. (Supplied: Google Maps)

The panel expressed concern over reports of “mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uighurs”, including through frequent police checks and scanning of mobile phones at checkpoints.

It also cited reports alleging many Uighurs who had left China had been forced to return to the country, and it called on Beijing to disclose their whereabouts and status.

The panel asked China to report back within a year on its main concerns.

China urges US to ‘concentrate on their own work’

A bipartisan group of US politicians urged Washington to impose sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for rights abuses of Muslims in Xinjiang, saying the region was being turned into a “high-tech police state”.

But Beijing quickly hit back, telling US politicians to instead focus on their own issues.

“If an individual takes a fair and unbiased view of China’s ethnic minority policy and the equal rights enjoyed by ethnic minorities, the individual will find that China’s ethnic minority policy and actual situation are much better than those of the United States,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

“I would also like to suggest the US members of Congress who were funded by the US taxpayers to concentrate on their own work and serve the American people, instead of worrying about things that are none of their business all day.

“We hope that the United States can face up to and respect the facts, abandon prejudice and stop taking actions that undermine mutual trust and cooperation between China and the United States.”

See also: The Repression of Uighers is now an All-Out War against a People (The Diplomat Op Ed)


Uighers sit near a statue of Mao
Photo: Ethnic Uighurs sit near a statue of China’s late chairman Mao Zedong in Kashgar, Xinjiang. (Reuters: Thomas Peter)


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