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US senators urge UN Gen-Sec to raise China’s abuses in Xinjiang with member states, key councils

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a news conference on June 11, 2018, at the United Nations in New York. (Li Muzi/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)
December 22, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A group of U.S. Senators have sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling on him to raise Chinese rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) with member states and at the U.N. Human Rights and Security Councils.

The letter, dated Dec. 19 and co-written by Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri, also urges Guterres to highlight China’s ongoing efforts to destroy all documentation related to its internment camp system, where authorities are believed to have detained some 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

The lawmakers broached the sensitive topic on the same day that China internally blacked out a segment of a live broadcast of the U.S. Democratic presidential debate after a moderator asked candidates about a number of China-related issues, including whether the U.S. should boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics because of the government’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

“We the undersigned urge actions by the United Nations to hold China accountable for its human rights violations,” the letter read, specifically requesting that Guterres work with member states and with the U.N. Human Rights and Security Councils to “take meaningful steps to condemn China’s operation of its detention camps in Xinjiang and to protect the documentary record of what is taking place in Xinjiang.”

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The Senators noted that last month, The New York Times published more than 400 pages of leaked internal documents revealing how Chinese officials issued guidance for surveillance and population control, including instructions on how to threaten family members of those detained, and required authorities to “show no mercy” in eradicating faith in Islam.

They pointed to a report by the Associated Press which said Chinese authorities this week began a campaign to systematically destroy all documentation related to the camps in response to the Times’ story, ordering the burning of papers containing sensitive personal details on residents, including their detention status, and calling on various state offices to throw away computers and disconnect data from the internet.

While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China this year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

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.

Earlier this year, Guterres responded to questions about the camps in the XUAR by calling for respect for human rights, and stressing the importance of allowing every community to feel that their identity is respected and that they belong to society as a while, and the lawmakers asked the General-Secretary to use his own words as an impetus to act.

“If you take these actions we stand ready to work with you to ensure China’s ruthless disregard for international norms and basic liberties will have consequences,” they said.

The letter, which was sent on the 35th anniversary of the Dec. 19, 1984 signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration setting the terms of the “one country, two systems” principle to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy as it transferred from British to Chinese authority in 1997, also called out Beijing’s moves in the decades since to rollback democratic freedoms and, most recently, violently quell protests in the territory.

Those who joined Rubio and Hawley in signing the missive included Senators John Cornyn of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Todd Young of Indiana.

Censored debate

Later on Thursday, the live feed of the sixth Democratic presidential debate was cut in China for about nine minutes while candidates were asked about a variety of China-related issues, including Beijing’s policy of mass incarceration in the XUAR, the Hong Kong protests, and military tensions in the disputed South China Sea, according to a report by CNN.

PBS moderator Judy Woodruff had asked former Vice President Joe Biden whether military conflict with China is inevitable, amid a number of issues that have heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, when the ex-Senator from Delaware shot back that “there’s a collision course through China, but not for war.”

“What we need to make clear is that we in fact are not going to abide by what they’ve done,” Biden said, referring to the detention of Uyghurs in the XUAR. “They’re being abused, they’re in concentration camps.”

“We should have gone to the U.N. immediately and sought sanctions against [China] in the United Nations for what they did,” he added.

Woodruff also asked South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg if he would consider, if elected president, boycotting the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics over China’s policies in the XUAR and other human rights issues, to which he replied, “there’s a lot more to the relationship with China than who’s selling more dishwashers.”

Official Chinese media regularly screens live broadcasts on international media networks in China, but censors cut any segment deemed politically sensitive by the country’s ruling Communist Party. Viewers know that a segment has been censored because the screen goes black and the audio cuts out.

Letter to broadcaster

Meanwhile, Senators Scott and Hawley on Thursday urged U.S. broadcaster NBC, which paid U.S. $7.75 billion four years ago for the rights to air the Olympics through 2032, to refuse to show the games because of abuses against Uyghurs in the XUAR and other rights violations by China.

“As the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing approach, we write to you with grave concern about the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow a Communist regime with an abysmal record on human rights to host a global sporting event that attracts athletes and spectators from all across the world,” the Senators wrote in a letter to the broadcaster’s top brass.

“By doing so, you are placing profits over principles, and ensuring that China can be accepted into the international system even as it violates its basic rules and tenets … By overlooking China’s human rights record, you betray your viewers in misleading them about the most important threat facing our values and our way of life.”

Earlier this month, a group of 10 U.S. lawmakers—including Scott, Hawley, Rubio, and Markey—called on the IOC to speed up implementation of an agenda requiring host cities to adhere to rights protections ahead of Beijing’s Winter Games in 2022, citing reports of widespread abuses in the XUAR.

In Thursday’s letter, Scott and Hawley said the IOC told them that it must remain “strictly politically neutral” with regard to China and would take no action, a response they called “woefully lacking.”

On Friday, U.S.-based Uyghur attorney and activist Nury Turkel told RFA’s Uyghur Service that the international community must not “repeat the mistakes of the 1936 Berlin Olympics that glorified Hitler’s Nazi Germany.”

Hitler had sought to use the games as an opportunity to promote his ideology of racial supremacy and antisemitism and the Nazi party proclaimed that Black and Jewish athletes should be prevented from competing. Only when participating nations threatened to boycott, did he relent.

“The Olympic Games should be about friendship and competition, and shouldn’t be the used as a venue to celebrate brutal regimes, such China’s Communist Party,” Turkel said.

“If Beijing doesn’t comply [with calls to end its abuses in the XUAR], then the U.S. Olympic Committee should consider boycotting the games, unless it wants our American athletes to compete in the shadow of concentration camps.”