UN in 'serious negotiations' with China about letting observers into Xinjiang province: Antonio Guterres

The United Nations is engaged in a “serious negotiation” with China about granting UN officials access to China's western Xinjiang province — scene of what many Western nations have called a campaign of genocide directed by Beijing against the Muslim minority Uyghur population.

'There must be due process and full respect' for Canadian detainees' rights, says UN secretary general

UN needs to enter China 'without restrictions or limitations': Antonio Guterres

3 years ago
Duration 4:29
In an exclusive interview with CBC News chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says the United Nations is engaged in a "serious negotiation" with China about granting UN officials access to China's Xinjiang province to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in the region against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Guterres also calls on Beijing to respect the will of the people of Hong Kong. Watch Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday at 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT/11:30 a.m. NT on CBC News Network and CBC Gem.

The United Nations is engaged in a "serious negotiation" with China about granting UN officials access to China's western Xinjiang province — the scene of what many Western nations have called a campaign of genocide directed by Beijing against the Muslim minority Uyghur population.

"A serious negotiation is, at the present moment, taking place between the Office of the High Commissioner [for Human Rights] and the Chinese authorities," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton in an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

"I hope that they will reach an agreement soon and that the human rights high commissioner will be able to visit China without restrictions or limitations."

Last month, a majority of MPs — including most Liberals who participated — voted in favour of a Conservative motion declaring China's actions in Xinjiang a genocide, as defined by the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention.

The final tally was 266 in favour and zero opposed. Two MPs formally abstained.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and almost all of his cabinet colleagues were absent for the vote. Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau was the only cabinet minister present. When it was his turn to vote, he said he would abstain "on behalf of the Government of Canada."

The motion also called on the government to lobby the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympic Games out of Beijing.

Earlier this month, Canada joined the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union in placing sanctions on four Chinese officials suspected of involvement in the years-long campaign of persecution against China's Uyghurs.

In response, China on Saturday announced sanctions on individuals and entities in Canada and the U.S., including sanctioning Conservative MP Michael Chong and the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

Global Affairs Canada said mounting evidence shows the Chinese state is responsible for arbitrarily imprisoning more than one million people on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, and for subjecting them to "political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilization."

China has denied all reports of human rights abuses in the region, claiming that the camps are vocational training centres needed to fight extremism.

"China has affirmed that, and reaffirmed to me on several occasions, that they want that mission to take place. For us, it's important for the mission to take place to be a mission that has unlimited access to what the Human Rights Commission wants to visit," Guterres said.

People gather on Parliament Hill on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, to protest the Chinese government's treatment of the Uyghur minority in China. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Democracy in Hong Kong

The National People's Congress, China's Parliament, imposed last year a national security law on Hong Kong that paved the way for a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in the city.

Earlier this month, China ratified an election law that dilutes the share of democratically elected lawmakers in Hong Kong and subjects all nominees to a new vetting process.

The law's passage is one of many recent direct interventions into the territory's governance by Beijing following the 2019 anti-government protests.

Britain quickly declared that China is now in "a state of ongoing non-compliance" with the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, which was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy after the territory returned to Beijing's control in 1997.

There are about 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong and Canada has expressed concern about a crackdown on democracy in the region.

Guterres told CBC News that the UN continues to call on China to respect human rights in Hong Kong. 

"We understand and respect the concerns of China in relation to the unity and territorial integrity of the country, but we believe also that the will of the people of Hong Kong needs to be respected," he said. 

UN following Kovrig, Spavor cases 'with concern'

Guterres also said the human rights of Canadian detainees Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor need to be guaranteed and that the UN is following "with concern these and many other situations of the same sorts."

"Our position has been very clear, that in all situations of this kind, there must be due process and full respect for the human rights of the people involved," he said.

"These are the positions that we have affirmed and reaffirmed to all involved. And also, naturally, whenever it is the case, to the authorities of the People's Republic of China."

Kovrig and Spavor were detained in China on Dec. 10, 2018 — nine days after Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver.

Meng was detained on a U.S. extradition request over allegations she lied to a Hong Kong banker in August 2013 about Huawei's control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The detention of the two Canadians is widely viewed as an act of reprisal in response to Meng's arrest. Beijing has maintained that the charges are legitimate.

Earlier this month, both men faced one-day trials in Chinese courts but their verdicts have not yet been handed down. 

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.