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France leads attack on China in the UN over human rights violations of Uyghurs

A labour camp. China is believed to have put up over a million Muslim minority people in concentration camps in Xinjiang (Photo: IANS)

More than 40 countries led by France panned China in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) for the "re-education camps" that it runs for the Muslim Uyghyur community in Xinjiang. Beijing has led torture and repression of various religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang where it is believed that an estimated 1 million people have been confined in camps.

Forty-three countries signed the statement criticising China for denying basic human rights to the Ughyurs. The French ambassador to the UN, Nicolas De Riviere read the statement at a meeting of the UNGA's human rights committee.

In their statement, the countries said: "We have seen an increasing number of reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations including reports documenting torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children”.

The statement added: "There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association and expression as well as on Uyghur culture. Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uyghurs and members of other minorities.”

They urged China to allow independent observers including the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet access to Xinjiang for a fair investigation.

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China mounted a strong response through ally Cuba, which said that matters pertaining to Xinjiang are China’s internal affairs. The 62 countries who supported Cuba in the counter-statement said that the allegations are based on “political motivation” and “disinformation.”

Dismissing the allegations, Chinese ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun accused the US and its European allies of poisoning the atmosphere of cooperation and “using human rights as a pretext for political maneuvering to provoke confrontation.” Zhang said that the lives of people in Xinjiang are getting better by the day.

China threw a challenge at the West nations by saying that it has not opposed Bachelet's visit to its western region, and she has “a standing invitation” to visit.

He added that “consultations are still going on” about the visit which should be “a friendly one” and should not start with “presumed guilt.”

The clash at the UNGA shows that tensions between the US and China continue. The two have disputes over trade, human rights violations, treatment of Taiwan, the spread of Covid-19 as well as Chinese territorial aggression against its neighbours.

The US and European nations are mounting pressure on China by sailing their battleships in waters around the East China Sea and the South China Sea as well as by holding naval and military drills in the Indo-Pacific region.