UN rights chief calls on China to protect human rights in Tibet and Xinjiang

But activists blast Türk’s comments as weak and not backed up by action.
By Adile Abelet for RFA Uyghur
UN rights chief calls on China to protect human rights in Tibet and Xinjiang UN human rights chief Volker Türk addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, March 4, 2024.
Image from UN Human Rights Council video

The United Nations human rights chief on Monday urged China to carry out recommendations from his office to protect human rights in Tibet, Xinjiang and across the country – but activists criticized his comments as weak and not backed up by action.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk made the comments on China while delivering an address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, updating its members on an array of themes and country situations.

Türk’s predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, issued a report in August 2022 that found that China’s detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity, though Beijing denies committing any abuses.

“I also call on the government to implement the recommendations made by my office and other human rights bodies in relation to laws, policies and practices that violate fundamental rights, including in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions,” Türk said. “I’m engaging with the Hong Kong authorities on continuing concerns about national security laws.”

Bachelet’s report made 13 recommendations to the Chinese government, including promptly releasing those detained against their will in detention camps – but which Beijing calls vocational education and training centers.

The report called on China to investigate allegations of human rights abuses at the facilities, including accusations of torture, sexual violence, forced labor and deaths in custody.

China should also release details about the location of Uyghurs in Xinjiang who have been out of touch with relatives abroad, establish safe means of communication for them and allow travel so families can be reunited – something that is now forbidden.

In the address, Türk said his office looked forward to engaging with China on plans it announced during its recent Universal Periodic Review to adopt 30 new measures for human rights protection, including amendments to the criminal law and revisions of the Criminal Procedure law.

During China’s Universal Periodic Review — a comprehensive review of its human rights record — at the Human Rights Council in January, Chinese government officials defended Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, while the U.S. representative to the United Nations condemned the country’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity there. 

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to an RFA request for comment on Türk's address.

Though China has denied rights violations in Xinjiang, Western states continue to raise alarms about continuing repression, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances of Uyghurs and others.

Western nations and human right groups have also condemned the Chinese government for policies undermining Tibetans’ religion, culture and language as well as for its brutal treatment of dissidents and the implementation of harsh national security laws in Hong Kong. 

‘Weak performance’

Sophie Richardson, former China director of Human Rights Watch, called Türk’s address “a weak performance,” saying he seemed “completely unmotivated by the agony and the pressure and the abuses that people across China are enduring.”

“I find it deeply worrying that he seems to be relying on tools and tactics that are, I think, well established to be ineffective, particularly dialogues,” she told RFA. “I think it’s also very worrying that he won’t even refer to his own office’s report on the Uyghur region and the conclusion that there may potentially be crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government.” 

“Thirty years of human rights dialogs have clearly enabled crimes against humanity, not prevented them,” Richardson said. 

New York-based Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, took Türk to task for “staying shamefully silent on the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.”

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, said Türk’s call was a step in the right direction, though not enough because the findings in Bachelet’s report haven’t yet been discussed at the Human Rights Council. 

“While Türk may be reluctant to take a stronger position on China because of China’s powerful influence at the U.N., his latest statement stings China badly as China is attempting to cover up the Uyghur genocide,” he said.

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.


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