(Bloomberg) -- A group of 43 countries denounced China’s human rights record at the United Nations on Thursday, criticizing Beijing for its detainment of Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang.

While the group of mostly Western nations criticizes China annually in the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee, that rebuke was joined this year for the first time by nations including Turkey, Eswatini and Liberia. The new additions to last year’s group, which included 39 nations, help push back against Chinese claims that the rebuke is part of a Western effort to keep China from rising.

“We have seen an increasing number of reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations, including reports documenting torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children,” French Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said on behalf of the group. “Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uyghurs and members of other minorities.”

Zhang Jun, China’s UN ambassador, called the criticism baseless, and lashed out at the group for seeking to interfere with China’s internal affairs.

The international community has piled pressure on China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, where the UN estimates hundreds of thousands of members of the ethnic minority have been held in “re-education camps.” Beijing has defended the camps as “vocational education centers” intended to “purge ideological diseases,” including terrorism and religious extremism.

Who Are the Uyghurs and Why Is China Locking Them Up?: QuickTake 

The group further called on China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers,” including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The group also called on countries not to send back asylum-seekers from Xinjiang in light of the “human rights situation” there.

Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch, said the UN statement is significant because “for the first time, all UN regional groups joined in calling for the violations in Xinjiang to stop and UN investigators to get immediate access. UN member states should establish an international commission of inquiry to formally investigate alleged crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and recommend avenues for holding those responsible to account.”

The UN move comes after U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday asked the U.S. Customs and Border Protection about its enforcement of the ban on cotton imports from China’s Xinjiang region, saying the upcoming National Basketball Association season raises concerns about endorsement deals some athletes have with Chinese sportswear companies. 

The Biden administration has stood by a declaration made on the final full day of the Trump administration that China is committing “genocide” in Xinjiang, a decision denounced by officials in Beijing. 

In May, Europe suspended ratification of an investment pact with China, after the two sides exchanged tit-for-tat sanctions over Xinjiang. The European Parliament subsequently passed a resolution urging a boycott of the Winter Olympics next year in Beijing due to the issue.


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