China: UN must act on Xinjiang atrocities after petition shows mass global outrage

  • More than 323,000 people worldwide sign Amnesty International’s ‘Free Xinjiang Detainees’ petition
  • Open letter urges UN to investigate human rights violations against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities
  • New testimonies reveal impact on detainees’ family members

The international community must strongly condemn the ongoing serious human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) and pave the way for justice and accountability, Amnesty International said today in an open letter to UN member states.

The call comes after 323,832 people from 184 countries and territories signed the organization’s petition calling on the Chinese authorities to release the hundreds of thousands of Muslim minority men and women arbitrarily detained and subjected to mass internment, torture and persecution in Xinjiang.

“Around the world, hundreds of thousands of people have signed our petition to express their outrage at evidence of crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations being inflicted on Muslims in Xinjiang,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“It’s a clear sign that people around the world see through China’s efforts to silence critics and lash out in response to credible reporting on its atrocities in Xinjiang. Every signature is a direct call on China to immediately stop this systematic persecution.”

“The Chinese government must immediately release all people arbitrarily detained in the camps and in prisons, dismantle the internment camp system, and end the systematic attacks against predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang.”

Petitions delivered at Chinese embassies

In recent days, Amnesty International supporters in 10 cities around the world have held public events to hand over their Free Xinjiang detainees petitions.

On 7 October, activists gathered at the Chinese embassy in London, UK, to hand over their petition while dressed in the distinctive blue uniforms that camp detainees are forced to wear. Amnesty International activists planned similar events at Chinese embassies in: Dakar, Senegal; Helsinki, Finland; Lima, Peru; Lisbon, Portugal; Madrid, Spain; Paris, France; The Hague, the Netherlands; and Washington DC, USA. Amnesty International Indonesia hosted an online seminar and led a digital action encouraging activists to dress in blue uniforms and post selfies.

The global petition is part of an ongoing Amnesty International campaign, launched in June 2021, to demand an end to the arbitrary detention and other serious human rights violations suffered by predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

The campaign highlights more than 60 cases of individuals arbitrarily detained in “transformation-through-education” centres – actually, internment camps – or sentenced to prison for years. These represent only a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of men and women – possibly up to one million or more – whom the Chinese authorities have detained under the guise of fighting “terrorism”.

New family testimonies

Amnesty International interviewed dozens of family members of those arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and recently released new videos sharing some of their experiences.

Memeteli’s sister, Hayrigul Niyaz, was detained after she returned from studying abroad, and he has no information about her whereabouts in Xinjiang. Memeteli told Amnesty International: “If I met her again, I will say: ‘Sorry, my sister, that I couldn’t save you from the camps.’”

Adila’s father, Sadir Ali, was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, allegedly because he was fasting during Ramadan. Adila said: “Deep [in my] heart I will never be happy because my father is in the jail or in the camp. Why is the Chinese government doing this to us?” She said she had been unable to visit her hometown for 11 years and has lost contact with her relatives in Xinjiang.

Abduweli Ayup, a well-known Uyghur activist now living in Norway, told Amnesty International about his sister, Sajidugul Ayupand brother Erkin Ayup, who are serving 12 and 14 year prison sentences, respectively, in Xinjiang for “inciting terrorism”: “I feel every time I do something, it will be dangerous for my family. No one can protect my family members from the punishment. I know that maybe my words will make the Chinese government very angry, but at least I will make the Chinese government know that I will not just watch them torture my sister. I’m not afraid to speak out anymore.”

Accountability for Xinjiang violations

In June 2021 Amnesty International launched a report documenting how Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang face systematic state-organized mass imprisonment, torture and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity.

The Chinese government has shown a total unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of the situation in Xinjiang, to halt the human rights violations, or to conduct impartial and thorough investigations and prosecute those suspected to be responsiblein fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

Meanwhile, UN bodies and member states have been slow to respond to the violations. Indeed, another UN Human Rights Council session ended last week without any formal action being taken to address abuses in Xinjiang.

What we’re asking

Amnesty International is urging UN member states to stand together to strongly condemn China’s serious human rights violations in Xinjiang and to launch a robust, independent, international investigative mechanism to ensure accountability.

“Despite mounting evidence of serious human rights violations and crimes under international law over the past four years, the United Nations and its member states have failed to live up to their responsibility to hold China to account for its actions,” said Agnès Callamard.

“The international community must stop pretending that the dystopian reality for Muslims in Xinjiang will somehow remedy itself. Too much time has already been wasted. Now more than ever, UN member states have a duty to protect the human rights of all people in Xinjiang, launch an investigation into the suspected crimes under international law, and ensure accountability.”

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