GENEVA: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu voiced concern on Monday at China’s alleged mistreatment of Uighurs and other Muslims in its Xinjiang region and called on Beijing to protect freedom of religion and cultural identity.
The UN Human Rights Council opened its main, annual four-week session and diplomats and activists say China has lobbied hard to avoid scrutiny over its policies in Xinjiang and other rights issues.
Western countries are looking to Turkey and other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to spotlight what China calls re-education and training facilities in Xinjiang.
UN experts and activists say the camps hold a million Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language, and other Muslims. China has denied accusations of mistreatment and deems criticism within the UN council to be interference in its sovereignty.
Cavuslogu did not specifically mention mass detention camps in the remote western region of China. But he told the Geneva forum that reports of human rights violations against Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang were serious cause for concern.
A distinction should be made between “terrorists and innocent people,” Cavusoglu added.
He then inserted a line into his prepared remarks, adding: “And I have to underline that we support the One China policy.”
He was referring to China’s stance that the country encompasses Taiwan and autonomous regions including Xinjiang and Tibet.
“We encourage Chinese authorities and expect that universal human rights, including freedom of religion, are respected and full protection of the cultural identities of the Uighurs and other Muslims is ensured,” Cavusoglu said.
China, a member of the 47-member Human Rights Council, did not immediately respond to his remarks, but delegations will be free to reply to allegations later in the session.
China’s counter-terror and de-radicalization efforts in Xinjiang should be applauded for creating a new method of tackling the problem, a senior Chinese diplomat told foreign envoys last week.