In a United Nations speech on Tuesday supported by 38 other countries, Germany criticised China’s human rights record and called on the world to accept persecuted Uygur Muslims as refugees.
The group of mostly Western countries, represented by Berlin’s ambassador to the United Nations, Christoph Heusgen, also expressed “deep concerns” over the national security law Beijing has imposed in Hong Kong, which allows people to be sent to mainland China for trials.
Beijing and its UN allies fired back, rejecting what they deemed interference in “China’s internal affairs”.
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A million Uygurs are in Chinese detention in the far western region of Xinjiang, according to UN findings. President Xi Jinping, however, has defended the “anti-terror” practice of “vocational training” as “totally correct”.
“We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the recent developments in Hong Kong,” Heusgen said in a UN general debate.
“In view of our concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, we call on all countries to respect the principle of non-refoulement,” he added.
The principle of non-refoulement forms an essential protection under international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, according to the UN.
It prohibits states from transferring or removing individuals from their jurisdiction when there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be at risk of irreparable harm upon return, including persecution, torture or other serious human rights violations.
The German envoy said: “Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uygurs and other minorities and more reports are emerging of forced labour and forced birth control including sterilisation.
“We call on China to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and her office.”
Germany – and a range of other countries including EU member states, the US and Britain – also expressed worry about the situation in Hong Kong.
“We have deep concerns about elements of the national security law that allow for certain cases to be transferred for prosecution to the Chinese mainland,” Heusgen said.
“We urge the relevant authorities to guarantee the rights which are protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, including freedoms of speech, the press and assembly.”
China, for its part, lambasted the US for violations of human rights. Its ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, spoke on behalf of 26 other nations, including Belarus, North Korea, Iran, Syria and Venezuela.
“The death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake are still happening,” Zhang said. “These incidents show the long-standing and deep-seated racism, police brutality and social inequality.”
Cuba led a group of 45 countries in praising China’s actions in Xinjiang.
The joint statement “noted with appreciation that China has undertaken a series of measures in response to threats of terrorism and extremism in accordance with the law to safeguard the human rights of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang”, according to Chinese state media Xinhua.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Germany urges withdrawal of Hong Kong security law, seeks access to Uygurs in Xinjiang
- US sanctions Chinese entity and individuals over ‘human rights abuses’ against Uygurs in Xinjiang, using Global Magnitsky Act
- US House passes forced labour bill that would bar Xinjiang imports