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China conditionally invites UN observers to Xinjiang

Updated January 08, 2019

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(FILES) This file picture taken on June 26, 2017 shows a policeman standing guard as local Muslims arrive for the Eid al-Fitr morning prayer at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomus Region. - The prefecture in the region's south has seen an explosion in the construction of “vocational training" centres for the region's Muslim minorities. But the centres have come under international scrutiny, with rights activists describing them as political re-education camps holding as many as one mil
(FILES) This file picture taken on June 26, 2017 shows a policeman standing guard as local Muslims arrive for the Eid al-Fitr morning prayer at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomus Region. - The prefecture in the region's south has seen an explosion in the construction of “vocational training" centres for the region's Muslim minorities. But the centres have come under international scrutiny, with rights activists describing them as political re-education camps holding as many as one mil

BEIJING: China said on Monday it would welcome UN officials to its far western region of Xinjiang if they follow the `proper procedures’, amid global concern over Beijing’s de-radicalisation programme there.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kangm asked at a regular briefing about reports that China had invited UN experts to Xinjiang, said that all parties, including the United Nations, were welcome, as long as they respected appropriate travel procedures. UN officials should also “avoid interfering in domestic matters” and adopt an objective and neutral attitude, he added.

The top UN human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, in December said her office was seeking access to Xinjiang to verify “worrying reports” of re-education camps holding Muslim minorities, including the Turkic speaking Uighurs.

In August, a UN human rights panel said it had received credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp”.

In a rare move, a group of 15 Western ambassadors in Beijing, spearheaded by Canada, have sought a meeting with the top official in the region, Communist Party boss Chen Quanguo, for an explanation of alleged rights abuses against Uighurs.

Beijing has launched an increasingly active publicity campaign to defend its actions in Xinjiang in the face of an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and UN rights experts.

In the last two weeks, the Chinese government has arranged for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries to visit the region, as well as organising a trip for a small group of reporters to three facilities, which it called vocational education training centres. In the centres, Uighur students learned in Mandarin about the dangers of extremist thought and sang and danced for reporters, including a rendition in English of “If You’re Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands”.

Xinjiang officials said on the trip that the de-radicalisation programme had been highly successful but that fewer people would be sent through the system in future.

Last year, media reported on harsh extrajudicial detentions and interrogations at the camps, which are at odds with Beijing’s claims, and took pictures of guard towers and barbed wire surrounding some.

Reports of gross human rights violations targeting the Uighur ethnic minority in the region in China’s northwest, which shares a border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, have leaked out in the past year.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2019

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