China Backed by 65 Nations on Human Rights Despite Xinjiang Concerns

Attempts by Canada to raise concerns about human rights violations in China's Xinjiang region were met with stiff resistance on Tuesday following Ottawa's joint statement at the United Nations.

Leslie E. Norton, Canada's permanent representative to the UN, issued an urgent plea for transparency and access to China's northwest, where rights groups and extensive media investigations have alleged widespread discriminatory policies targeting Uyghur Muslims living in the region.

Her statement was submitted on behalf of 44 signatories, including the United States, at the 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council.

However, her concerns were almost immediately dismissed by a group of 65 member states—led by Belarus—that sided with Beijing. Following the June 22 session, China said that it had support for its policies from more than 90 countries, while describing Western governments as "self-styled human rights judges."

Ambassador Norton told the UN that Canada and others were "gravely concerned about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region."

"Credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and that there is widespread surveillance disproportionately targeting Uyghurs and members of other minorities and restrictions on fundamental freedoms and Uyghur culture," she said.

"There are also reports of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children from their parents by authorities," Norton added in her cross-regional statement representing 44 states.

She called on China to grant "immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers," including the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who announced on Monday her intention to inspect Xinjiang this year. The Chinese government chided Bachelet for making "erroneous remarks."

The Canadian representative also touched on Tibet and the "deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong" after China's enacting of a sweeping national security law in the summer of 2020.

"We call on Chinese authorities to abide by their human rights obligations," Norton concluded in the statement signed by, among others, the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Observers noted the distinct lack of Islamic nations in the joint statement, with the notable exception of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is majority Muslim.

Canada's statement was later overwhelmed by the address by Belarus, which represented 65 member states in opposing "politically motivated and groundless accusations against China based on disinformation," the Chinese Mission to the UN said afterwards.

The Chinese government has consistently denied any wrongdoing in Xinjiang, where it claims safety has improved and unemployment has gone down thanks to its "deradicalization" efforts, which include vocational training facilities around the formerly majority-Muslim region.

Rights groups have described them as mass detention centers.

China's office in Geneva said six Gulf states supported its position after Canada's joint statement. More than 20 other nations are also planning to back Beijing at Human Rights Council sessions in the coming days, still according to Chinese officials.

In a separate statement on Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the statement by Belarus stressed "respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states."

"The affairs of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet are China's internal affairs, and the outside world should not interfere. All should ... respect the right of people of all countries to independently choose the path of human rights development in light of their national conditions, oppose politicizing and double standards on human rights issues, oppose politically motivated and groundless accusations against China based on disinformation, and oppose interference in China's internal affairs under the pretext of human rights," it added.

"These self-styled 'human rights judges' are always eager to lecture others, but choose to turn a blind eye to or downplay their own serious human rights issues," the statement continued. More than 90 countries were against the attempt to "smear China," the ministry concluded.

The China-led retort at the UN mirrored similar developments in 2020, when German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen read out a joint statement by 39 countries raising concerns about Xinjiang on October 6.

The address to the UN General Assembly Third Committee was met with a rebuttal by China and more than 70 other countries. A week later, China, Pakistan, Russia and Cuba were among 15 states voted onto the Human Rights Council for a three-year term lasting through 2023.

The 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council will run from June 21 to July 13.

Newsweek has contacted the U.S. Mission to the UN for comment.

UN Members States Clash At Rights Council
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (L) looks on next to the Human Rights Council president, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan (R), after delivering a speech on global human rights developments during a session of the Human Rights Council on June 21, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images