GENEVA — China’s government defended itself against reports of serious human rights offenses, flatly rejecting the concerns of United Nations experts that at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs are being detained, re-educated and indoctrinated in the remote Xinjiang Province.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang blamed the allegations that aired during an August session of the Geneva-based U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, or CERD, on a smear campaign of “anti-China forces” and foreign media taking political aim at China’s standing.
Over several days in August the committee’s 18 independent experts expressed alarm at reports of secret internment camps and other harsh measures directed at the mostly Muslim Uighur minority who live amid the ethnic Han Chinese majority in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
“Certain anti-China forces have made unwarranted charges against China for political purposes, and a few overseas media smeared China’s measures to fight terrorism and crimes in Xinjiang through their distorted reports of the CERD review, which is out of ulterior motives,” Lu said in a ministry statement posted online.
“Xinjiang enjoys social stability, economic growth and harmonious coexistence of ethnic groups,” he said. “People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang cherish their peaceful and prosperous life. Any rumor and slander will turn out to be futile.”
The autonomous area, with high mountain ranges and desert plains, is rich in oil and natural gas and borders seven other Central Asia nations. The committee cited the reports of human rights groups and academic scholars that arbitrary detention and re-education centers were in use.
Human rights activists and scholars estimate at least 1 million people are effectively imprisoned in secret “counter-extremism” internment or political “re-education” and indoctrination camps in Xinjiang.
One CERD member, Fordham University Law School scholar Gay McDougall, said China treats Uighurs as “enemies of the state” due to their religion and ethnicity. She described Xinjiang as “something resembling a massive internment camp, shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone.”
McDougall, an American, also served as the first U.N. independent expert on minority issues and as executive director of Washington-based Global Rights.
CERD Co-Rapporteur Gay McDougall has insisted #China actually answer the questions the committee posed, especially with regards to the mass arbitrary detention of #Uyghurs in political indoctrination camps#ChinaCERD pic.twitter.com/aG6wLGv348
— World Uyghur Congress (@UyghurCongress) August 13, 2018
Yu Jianhua, China’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, said China’s economic progress and treatment of minorities lifted 20 million people out of poverty. He repeated the Chinese government’s claims that the need for tightened security in Xinjiang is a response to trouble-making separatists and terrorists.
The discussion in CERD was the first time that China had to publicly explain some recent events: the crackdown that resulted in Xinjiang, following a deadly anti-government riot with violence against the Han Chinese at the regional capital Urumqi in 2009; and a deadly car attack at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 2013, which police and security officials attributed to Uighur Muslims.
A Hong Kong-based group, China Human Rights Defenders, reported that official data shows more than 20 percent of all arrests in China in 2017 were in Xinjiang, even though the region’s 11 million population represents less than 2 percent of China’s population.
The U.N. committee met to discuss China’s report on its compliance with the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which bans unfair treatment or favoritism on the basis of a person’s race, skin color or ethnicity, and also outlaws hate speech.
Lu said the Chinese delegation “expounded on the new progress China has made in protecting the rights and interests of the ethnic minorities, and the CERD recognized what China has done and achieved for the implementation of the Convention.”