China’s Weak Excuse to Block Investigations in Xinjiang


Still from the “Axios on HBO” interview with China’s ambassador to the US Cui Tiankaig, March 22, 2020.


© 2020 Axios/YouTube

When a journalist recently asked China’s ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai if the Chinese government would allow international human rights monitors into Xinjiang to observe without supervision, Cui ducked the question. He claimed China was working on a visit for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights but complained that some were insisting on “preconditions” and these “unreasonable, unnecessary obstacles” were getting in the way.

This weak dodge shouldn’t obscure the facts. UN experts, journalists, human rights organizations, and survivors of mass arbitrary detention in Xinjiang know that human rights violations of an unprecedented scope and scale against Turkic Muslims are ongoing in the region. Many have recounted harrowing torture, forced political indoctrination, and humiliation of their religious beliefs in detention. 

Those outside Xinjiang’s “political education” camps don’t fare much better. Many have been subjected to pervasive state surveillance, tight restrictions on movement, and the effective criminalization of their distinct identity. Even those living outside China aren’t free of Beijing’s torment: diaspora communities have been cut off for years from family members—including young children—still in Xinjiang.

In the face of such a crisis, it’s normal and necessary for the UN human rights office to carry out an independent investigation—precisely what High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet began requesting in March 2019 when she sought “full access to carry out an independent assessment” in Xinjiang. Chinese authorities say she is invited to visit, but more than a year later have yet to commit to allowing her team unfettered access, a standard component of such investigations. 

Denying independent access is a typical response by states seeking to avoid scrutiny of gross human rights violations. It’s no surprise that investigations into horrific abuses against North Koreans, Rohingya in Myanmar, and Venezuelans have taken place outside their countries. More than two dozen governments have repeatedly urged Chinese authorities to allow an independent in-country investigation, a call Beijing has failed to heed.

China has a record of orchestrating Xinjiang tours for visiting diplomats that lack independence or credibility. So if Chinese officials like Ambassador Cui are going to suggest that standard operating procedures for independent investigations are “unreasonable” and “unnecessary,” the UN should start to gather evidence outside the country and report its findings back to the UN Human Rights Council. 

Because what is truly unreasonable and unnecessary: prolonged mass abuses of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.