International indignation gaining momentum . . .
The ambassadors to the United Nations of twenty-two countries (European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada) have signed a letter sent to the UN Human Rights Council calling for China to “refrain from the arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uighurs, and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang.” The letter also urges China to allow independent experts, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, meaningful access to the region. The UN counter terrorism chief who visited Xinjiang in June came under heavy criticism for having avoided the issue during his visit.
China under increasing scrutiny over Xinjiang camps . . .
Some countries, including Canada, have raised this issue at the UN before, but such criticism has often been buried in praise by other countries for China’s development and poverty reduction. Although the letter is not as meaningful as an official resolution submitted to a vote at the Council, it nonetheless sends a strong signal that China, especially as a member of the Human Rights Council, needs to abide by the highest international standards.
Using multilateral tools to advance human rights . . .
The international community has been slow to challenge China on its repressive crackdown in Xinjiang, but Human Rights Watch calls the joint letter unprecedented. According to the organization, it reflects skepticism about China’s behaviour in Xinjiang and clearly demonstrates that countries are now willing to join forces to call out China about the situation in Xinjiang. Multilateral venues such as the Human Rights Council are key fora for addressing such issues, especially at a time when the respect for human rights is in decline throughout the world, and as the liberal order is being challenged by a variety of illiberal forces.