Canada among countries urging China to shut Uighur detention camps

Western countries including Canada, France and Germany are calling on China to close down detention camps, which activists say hold a million Uighurs and other Muslims.

China calls the allegations of mass detention 'seriously far away from the facts'

A man takes part in a demonstration against China during its Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council in front of the United Nations Office in Geneva on Tuesday. The protest drew around 1,000 Tibetan and Uighurs. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Western countries including Canada, France and Germany called on China on Tuesday to close down detention camps, which activists say hold a million Uighurs and other Muslims.

But China rejected the Western criticism of suspected mass detention and heavy surveillance of Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang, dismissing the allegations as "seriously far away from facts."

"We will not accept the politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases and in total disregard of the facts," Le Yucheng, Chinese vice-minister of foreign affairs who headed a 66-member delegation, told the United Nations Human Rights Council.

At a debate at the Geneva forum — which reports on human rights in each UN member state every five years and is reviewing China's record today — Beijing said it protects the freedoms of its 55 ethnic minorities.

But one after another, Western countries spoke out against what they described as a deterioration in China's human rights since the last review, especially over its treatment of Muslims in the western province of Xinjiang.

Canada recommends that China release Uighurs and other Muslims who have been detained arbitrarily … for their ethnicity or religion.-  Rosemary McCarney,  Canada's envoy to UN in Geneva

Beijing should "halt massive imprisonment" and "guarantee freedom of religion and belief, including in Tibet and Xinjiang," French Ambassador Francois Rivasseau said.

Germany called for an end to "all unlawful detention including unconstitutional mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang."

'Deeply concerned'

Canada's envoy, Rosemary McCarney, said Ottawa was "deeply concerned by credible reports of mass detention, repression and surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.

"Canada recommends that China release Uighurs and other Muslims who have been detained arbitrarily and without due process for their ethnicity or religion," she said. Similar statements were made by diplomats from Australia and Japan.

China has said that Xinjiang faces a threat from Islamist militants and separatists. It rejects all accusations of mistreatment and denies mass internment, although Chinese officials have said some citizens guilty of minor offences were being sent to vocational centres to work.

Free vocational training

Le, referring to Xinjiang, said: "Stability is most important, prevention should be put first ... Setting up the training centres is a preventive measure to combat terrorism."

Another Chinese delegate said that authorities were "providing free of charge vocational training with a diploma after exams" to those who had been "coerced or lured" by extremist groups.

"The extreme terrorism in Xinjiang was quite serious, seriously undermining stability and tranquility in the locality and aroused strong indignation from the people," said Yasheng Sidike, the Uighur mayor of the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.

For the last 22 months there had been "no incident of violent terrorism," he added.

China's Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng attends review of China by the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

John Fisher of Human Rights Watch said after the debate that China had "failed to offer credible explanations" for grave violations, including "political education" camps.

A United Nations panel of human rights experts said on Aug. 10 it had received many credible reports that one million ethnic Uighurs in China were being held in what resembles a "massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy."

Around 1,000 Tibetan and Uighur protesters from around Europe held a demonstration outside the UN headquarters in Geneva during the debate.