By Edith M Lederer | AP
UNITED NATIONS, 1 May 2019
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres raised the plight of an estimated 1 million Uyghurs incarcerated in re-education camps in China with “Chinese authorities” during a recent visit to Beijing, the United Nations said Monday.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters when asked whether the UN chief raised the Uyghurs’ plight with President Xi Jinping that the UN chief “discussed all relevant issues with the Chinese authorities” including “the situation in Xinjiang,” where the sweeping crackdown against the Muslim minority has taken place.
He added: “This follows several other contacts in the recent past on this same issue that he’s had with Chinese authorities.”
A UN official said Tuesday that Guterres did not raise the Uyghur issue with Xi, but did discuss their situation during a meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Dujarric said the secretary-general told Chinese authorities that “human rights must be fully respected in the fight against terrorism and in the prevention of violent extremism.”
Criticism has grown over China’s internment of the Uyghurs as well as members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups — and Guterres has been criticised by human rights groups and some governments for his behind-the-scenes approach and failure to address their plight publicly.
Last week, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth wrote a harsh op-ed in the Washington Post saying halfway through his five-year term Guterres “is becoming defined by his silence on human rights — even as serious rights abuses proliferate” including against the Uyghurs.
Roth said numerous governments have voiced concerns about China’s detention of the Uyghurs “for forced indoctrination,” but “Guterres has not said a word about it in public. Instead, he praises China’s development prowess and rolls out the red carpet for President Xi Jinping.”
Dujarric has been pressed about whether the secretary-general was going to raise the Uyghur issue — and did raise it — with Xi during his trip to Beijing from 25-27 April to attend a gathering of leaders to celebrate China’s sprawling multibillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative.
He called Guterres’ discussions with Xi “very cordial” and “frank.”
“The secretary-general’s position on this has always been the same in private as it is in public, and those are based on three indivisible principles,” Dujarric said.
They are respect for China’s unity and territorial integrity, condemnation of terrorist attacks, “and that human rights must be fully respected in the fight against terrorism and in the prevention of violent extremism,” Dujarric said. “Each community must feel that its identity is respected and that it fully belongs to the nation as a whole.”
He said Guterres told the Chinese “that he fully stands by the initiatives” of UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet who has been trying to send a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang since December. She complained last month that she still hasn’t received approval from Beijing.
Asked whether Guterres was satisfied with his response from the Chinese, Dujarric said “this is part of a dialogue that the secretary-general has had with Chinese authorities in the past and that he will continue to have.”