Dozens of countries voiced concern Tuesday at alleged abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, and demanded that the UN rights chief publish a long-delayed report on the rights situation there.

“We continue to be gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” The Netherlands ambassador to the UN in Geneva Paul Bekkers told the UN Human Rights Council.

United Nations Human Rights Council. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

Delivering a joint statement on behalf of 47 countries, he pointed to a number of “credible reports” — vehemently denied by Beijing — indicating that more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been arbitrarily detained in the region.

“There are reports of ongoing widespread surveillance, discrimination against Uyghurs and other persons belonging to minorities,” he said.

There were also reports of “severe restrictions on Uyghur culture and the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, he added. 

Photograph of a Uyghur detainee taken between January and July 2018 and verified by the BBC. Photo: BBC, via screenshot.

The joint statement also voiced concern about “reports of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilisation, sexual and gender-based violence, forced labour, and forced separation of children from their parents by authorities”.

The countries, he said, “repeat our call on China to urgently address these concerns,” and to “end the arbitrary detention of Muslim Uyghurs and persons belonging to other minorities”.

They also called on Beijing to provide UN investigators and experts “meaningful and unfettered access” to independently observe the situation on the ground.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet was granted access to visit last month — marking the first visit by a UN rights chief to China in 17 years.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. File photo: UN.

But she faced harsh criticism for not speaking up more forcefully against China’s alleged abuses prior to and during the trip, which is believed to have been heavily controlled by Chinese authorities.

In Tuesday’s joint statement, the countries asked for “more detailed observations, including on the restrictions the Chinese authorities imposed on the visit”. 

The UN rights chief has also faced growing pressure to release a long-delayed report on the rights situation in Xinjiang, which diplomats say has been ready for months.

Bachelet, who announced Monday that she will not be seeking a second term, vowed that the report would be published before she steps down on August 31.

Tuesday’s joint statement urged the report’s “prompt release”, asking Bachelet to provide “further information on the timeline.”  

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