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Pressure on China over ethnic minorities

The U.N. Human Rights Council put China's record under a microscope, pressuring the powerful Asian nation to respect ethnic minorities.

GENEVA (AN) — The U.N. Human Rights Council put China's record under a microscope, pressuring the powerful Asian nation to respect ethnic minorities and allow citizens more basic freedoms.

The 47-nation council's routine examination of China, part of its Universal Periodic Review, or UPR process, focused on China's detention and reeducation camps for at least 1 million Uyghur Muslims and its longstanding crackdown on another ethnic minority, Tibetans.

Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Iceland — which replaced the United States on the 47-nation Human Rights Council after U.S. President Donald Trump's administration announced America's withdrawal — were among the more than dozen nations that expressed alarm and urged immediate changes over China's treatment of ethnic minorities.

The reviews, essentially checkups on national human rights records, are required of all 193 U.N. member nations about twice a decade. Nations must declare what they have done to improve their record on human rights and respond to other countries' recommendations. With each review, three nations are put in charge. Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Hungary were chosen for China's examination.

The Czech Republic's statement, reflecting a typical stance among Western nations, recommended that China "ensure the right to freedom of religion or belief for all and end all forms of detention, harassment and so-called 'reeducation' of ethnic and religious minorities, including in Xinjiang."

China's vice-minister for foreign affairs, Le Yucheng, led his delegation, which asserted his nation was making progress on human rights. During the previous UPR, he said, China agreed to implement 204 of the 252 recommendations from other nations.

The UPR itself is mandatory, but the outcome of the review is not; each nation decides which recommendations to accept, and makes voluntary pledges. "We will continue to adopt an open attitude in this regard," Le told the council in a session broadcast live on U.N. Web TV.

Other Chinese diplomats, however, said the nation would refuse to accept recommendations that are "political" in nature or that seek to "undermine" the nation's sovereignty.

Demonstration in Geneva

The Berlin-based World Uyghur Congress, which posted fact-checking tweets about China's submissions to the Human Rights Council, demonstrated outside the Palais des Nations, the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva, calling for the detention camps to be shut down.

International organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on diplomats to pressure China over its use of so-called vocational training centers for Uyghurs.

"The countries should urge China to close the 'political education' centers across Xinjiang, where the authorities are arbitrarily detaining an estimated 1 million Turkic Muslims because Beijing views their distinct identity as evidence of political disloyalty," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

In August, China’s government defended itself against reports of serious human rights abuses and flatly rejected the concerns of U.N. experts that anywhere from 1 to 3 million ethnic Uyghurs were being detained, re-educated or indoctrinated in the remote Xinjiang Province.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang blamed those allegations, which aired during an August session of the Geneva-based U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, on a smear campaign of “anti-China forces” and foreign media taking political aim at China’s standing.

Over several days in August, the committee’s 18 independent experts expressed alarm at the reports of secret internment camps and other harsh measures directed at the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority, who live amid the ethnic Han Chinese majority in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

Human rights activists and scholars have estimated that at least 1 million people were effectively imprisoned in a massive, secret “counter-extremism” internment camp, while as many as 2 million more were forced into political “re-education” and indoctrination camps across Xinjiang.

In Tibet, Beijing's forces began occupying the region after the 1949 communist revolution. Security forces began to grow much larger after anti-government protests took hold around Tibet in 2008.

China claims Tibet has been part of the nation for more than seven centuries, and it was worked to counteract the global influence of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India.