GENEVA (Reuters) – Western powers called on China on Friday to restore basic legal rights in Hong Kong and open up to scrutiny its remote Xinjiang region where more than one million ethnic Uighurs are held.
The rare rebuke of China came at the U.N. Human Rights Council where the European Union, Britain, Australia and Canada were among those voicing mounting concerns about both areas.
“No state should be above the law, China’s turn has come,” John Fisher of Human Rights Watch told the forum, speaking on behalf of more than 300 activist groups.
Abdulxukur Abdurixit, a Uighur, urged the council to name a U.N. investigator on his native region, saying: “There is a genocide being committed against my people.”
“My family is held hostage in a Chinese concentration camp. My brother is forced to assemble phone chargers as a slave labourer. Your charger may be among them,” he said.
A Chinese diplomat rejected “baseless allegations” by Western delegations but did not address them.
China has denied mistreating Uighurs and said the camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
Britain called on China to uphold rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, and maintain the independence of the former British colony’s judiciary.
The new security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong was “being implemented with the apparent intention to eliminate dissent”, Britain’s Lord Tariq Ahmad said.
“It allows prosecution of certain cases in mainland China, a jurisdiction where defendants are often held for long periods without charge or access to legal counsel, and where we have concerns about judicial independence, due process, and reports of torture,” he said.
Germany, speaking for the EU, voiced concerns at “the existence of a large network of political re-education camps, widespread surveillance, and systemic restrictions on freedom of religion or belief against Uighurs and other minorities” in Xinjiang.
Canada’s ambassador Leslie Norton voiced alarm at “mass arbitrary detention and separation of children from their parents, repressive surveillance, as well as reports of forced labour and forced sterilisation affecting Uyghurs and other minorities” in the region.
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last week she was discussing a possible visit to Xinjiang with Chinese authorities.
Her predecessor, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, told a UK-hosted panel on Wednesday that the “excessive use of force” against Hong Kong protesters “cannot be divorced from what is happening in the rest of China – the persecution, possibly even amounting to genocidal acts against the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the long suffering of the people of Tibet.”
“This only underscores why the people of Hong Kong ought to be worried,” Zeid said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)
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