China’s human rights record was the focus of intense scrutiny January 23 by the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Council, where Beijing faced criticism from Western democratic societies over its treatment of Uyghurs, Tibetans, and dissidents in Hong Kong.
The meeting marked the fourth time that China’s rights record has been examined by the council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure and the first time since former High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a blistering report on China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang region.
The report, which Bachelet released just minutes before she left her post as high commissioner on September 1, 2022, accuses China of having committed “serious human rights violations” against the Uyghurs that might amount to crimes against humanity, allegations that China rejected then and rejects now.
U.N. experts and human rights organizations accuse China of incarcerating more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in so-called vocational centers and of subjecting them to systematic, widespread abuse.
Charges such as those were categorically denied by a member of China’s delegation at the January 23 council hearing.
China’s delegation also dismissed international criticism of the government’s harsh crackdown on pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong since its takeover of the territory.
Since more than 160 countries signed up to speak at the UPR, each representative was limited to 45 seconds, with delegates rushing through their questions, concerns, and recommendations.
Simon Manley, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, demanded that China “cease persecution and arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and Tibetans and allow genuine freedom of religion or cultural expression without fear of surveillance, torture, forced labor, or sexual violence.”
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Michele Taylor, raced through her intervention to get everything she had to say within the 45 seconds allotted to her. She called for the release of all arbitrarily detained individuals and called on China to “cease harassment, surveillance, and threats against individuals abroad and in China, including Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong.”
She demanded an end to torture, persecution throughout China, forced labor and marriage. She condemned “the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, human rights abuses in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and across China.”
While delegates were verbally sparring with China and one another inside the council chamber, several human rights groups, including the Tibet Advocacy Coalition, the World Uyghur Congress, and human rights defenders in Hong Kong were demonstrating against China outside the U.N. building.
Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress who was present at the UPR, reprimanded Muslim countries who applauded China’s development efforts “without a mention of religious and cultural persecution of Uyghurs.”
“The UPR was an opportunity for us to identify those with moral dignity and those who decide to look the other way in the face of genocide,” he said. “We know who those are.”