Xinjiang: New Zealand co-sponsoring United Nations event on Uighur human rights labelled by China 'shameful travesty'

New Zealand is co-sponsoring a United Nations (UN) event on the human rights situation in Xinjiang; an event China has lashed out against, labelling it a "shameful travesty".

A number of UN member states and non-government organisations are on Thursday (NZT) attending a virtual conference planned by Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States to discuss the treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, China. 

It comes after several parliaments declared a genocide to be underway in the Chinese autonomous region, where around 1 million Uighur people are reported to be confined, and subject to horrific abuses. New Zealand's Parliament last week said "severe human rights abuses" are occurring, but didn't go as far as to call it a 'genocide'.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has confirmed to Newshub that New Zealand is co-sponsoring the event. Other countries involved include Australia and Canada.

"The event is an important opportunity to raise further awareness of the human rights situation in Xinjiang and how the international community – the UN system, member states and civil society – can work together and advocate for the human rights of the Uyghur and other ethnic and religious minority communities in Xinjiang," an MFAT spokesperson told Newshub.

Human Rights Watch, an organisation that investigates international human rights abuses, is among those behind the event. 

It shared with Newshub an invitation to the conference, which is described as a "virtual interactive UN side event to address the human rights situation of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, China".

"Participants will include representatives of UN member states, UN offices and departments, civil society organizations, affected communities, academics, and journalists."

Among those slated to speak are the Permanent Representatives of Germany, the UK and the US to the UN, as well as the executive director of HRW, and Jewher Ilham, a Uighur human rights activist.

There is also a slot scheduled for a "Q and A session and interventions from member States". 

Around 1 million Uighurs are thought to be detained.
Around 1 million Uighurs are thought to be detained. Photo credit: War on Fear/Youtube.

However, China - which denies abuses are happening in Xinjiang despite overwhelming independent reports and testimonials - isn't happy about the event.

A note reportedly sent to member states from China's UN mission expresses "strong opposition" to the conference.

"It is a politically-motivated event. The co-sponsors use human rights issues as a political tool to interfere in China's internal affairs like Xinjiang, to create division and turbulence and disrupt China's development," the note says.

"This practice gravely violates the purpose and principles of the UN Charter and norms of international relations." 

It goes on to call the event "disinformation propaganda", accuse co-sponsors of "fabricating lies and false allegations" and warns "the provocative event can only lead to more confrontation".

MFAT told Newshub it had "no comment on the diplomatic note" but confirmed New Zealand was attending the event. 

Hua Chunying, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's spokesperson, addressed the event at her Monday (NZT) press conference, accusing member states of "abusing the resources and platform of the UN to smear and attack China to serve selfish political interests".

"This is a shameful travesty of the UN. I must point out that a handful of Western countries such as the US, the UK and Germany can by no means represent the UN, even less the international community," she said.

"These politicians in the US and other Western countries have been fabricating lies and rumours without any scruples out of the vicious intention of suppressing and containing China, but this farce is being seen through by more and more people. The cheap shot will only accelerate the erosion of the credibility of the US itself. So they should know better than keeping up the play."

Hua Chunying.
Hua Chunying. Photo credit: Getty Images.

New Zealand's Parliament last week unanimously supported a motion saying MPs are "gravely concerned about the severe human rights abuses" in Xinjiang and called on the Government to work with the UN and other international partners "to bring these abuses to an end".

The motion was initially meant to say genocide is occurring, but the wording was changed after deliberations with the governing Labour Party.

During the parliamentary debate, Foreign Affairs Minister and Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta said the Government hasn't designated the situation in Xinjiang as a genocide, not because of a lack of concern, but because such a determination should only be reached "following a rigorous assessment on the basis of international law". 

"The New Zealand Government, in concert with others, will continue to call upon China in the strongest terms to provide meaningful and unfettered access to the United Nations and other independent observers to ascertain the situation in Xinjiang."

However, during an event in April, Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi suggested any visit to Xinjiang by observers would have strict conditions. 

New Zealand has repeatedly raised concerns about activities in Xinjiang. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talked about human rights issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2019, while Aotearoa signed up to a statement criticising the abuses with UN member states last October.

MFAT reiterated New Zealand's concern on Thursday. 

"New Zealand has consistently made clear its grave concerns about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang," the spokesperson said.

"New Zealand has repeatedly called on the Chinese Government to grant meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for United Nations experts, and other independent observers."