China is facing mounting pressure from the international community to account for its policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where an estimated one million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been held in a sprawling system of political “re-education camps.”
On Wednesday, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she had called on China to allow international monitors access to the region to verify reports of arbitrary detentions in the camps, where authorities have held Uyghurs and other Muslims accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
“My office seeks to engage on this issue with the government for full access to carry out an independent assessment of the continuing reports pointing to wide patterns of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” Bachelet said, marking her second request for access to the region in six months at the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC).
Bachelet’s statement came a day after U.N. religious freedom investigator Ahmed Shaheed told the media that he had also requested access to the XUAR in February to investigate concerns over China’s “de-extremification” law.
Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the XUAR, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October 2018 that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.
China recently organized two visits to monitor re-education camps in the XUAR—one for a small group of foreign journalists, and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Thailand—during which officials dismissed claims about mistreatment and poor conditions in the facilities as “slanderous lies.”
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said that China has invited “many groups from overseas” to visit the XUAR, and welcomes all parties to the region, “if they act in compliance with the Chinese law,” according to a report by the state-owned China Global Television Network group.
“China does not welcome organizations which visit Xinjiang with political purposes and attempt to harm China’s interests,” the report said, citing Lu.
Lu also urged the HRC and other relevant departments to “adhere to the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter, and respect the human rights of member states when performing their duties,” it said.