China warns UN members not to attend panel on human rights

China has warned fellow United Nations member states not to attend a panel on human rights abuses in Xinjiang sponsored by a think tank and two rights groups on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, the National Review reported.

The event organized by the Atlantic Council, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International aims to put more pressure on China to stop its repression and violence against mostly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the restive, far-western region of China.

China’s permanent mission to the U.N. expressed its “resolute opposition” to the event and “strongly” recommended that other missions not attend in a letter dated Sept. 14, a copy of which was obtained by the conservative news outlet the National Review.

China referred to the three cosponsors as “notorious anti-China organizations” and said it opposed interference in its internal affairs. 

“They are obsessed with fabricating lies and spreading malicious disinformation about Xinjiang with no respect for truth, and are plotting to use human rights issues as a political tool to undermine Xinjiang’s stability and disrupt China’s peaceful development,” the letter said.

Radio Free Asia contacted the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., which said questions should be directed to China’s permanent mission to the United Nations. But Chinese diplomats at the U.N. mission could not be reached by phone and did not respond to an emailed request for comments.

“A major pillar of the U.N.’s mandate is the protection of human rights, so for a U.N. member state to intimidate other member states to not discuss or attend even a meeting on the U.N.’s mandate is incredibly shocking behavior or shocking bad behavior from the Chinese government” said Maya Wang, associate director of the Asia division at HRW.

Criticism of UN

Human rights and Uyghur rights advocacy groups have criticized the U.N. for failing to take concrete action to hold China to account for its abuses, saying the international body has done little since releasing a report a year ago stating that Chinese may have committed crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and others.

When speaking about human rights during his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, U.S. President Biden said: “We cannot turn away from abuses whether in Xinjiang, Tehran, Darfur or anywhere else.” 

Part of the problem of holding Beijing to account is that the Chinese government now expects impunity for grave international crimes because of its economic and political might, Wang said. 

“The inability of the U.N. system to hold the Chinese government accountable or even just discussing human rights issues that are human rights abuses of the Chinese government at the U.N. system is putting their own credibility at peril,” she told RFA. 

Wang’s colleague, Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, tweeted on Sept. 18, “Amazing to what lows CN govt will stoop to prevent even a discussion. Imagine what it’s like to be a #Uyghur, arbitrarily detained, no access to family/lawyer.”

Rayhan Asat, a Uyghur human rights lawyer and nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, urged global leaders, including U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, to listen to the analysis of the human rights situation in Xinjiang and take decisive action to end the atrocities against the Uyghurs. 

“By intimidating participation from various U.N. missions as a form of reprisal tactic, China seeks to silence the voices of former U.N. mandate holders and top experts from foremost human rights organizations who bear witness to China’s relentless atrocities,” he told RFA. 

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.