UNITED NATIONS -- Forty-three countries have called on China to "ensure full respect for the rule of law" for the Muslim Uighur community in Xinjiang, in a statement read at the United Nations (UN) on Thursday (October 21).
The declaration, signed by the United States as well as several European and Asian member states and others, accused China of a litany of violations of Uighurs' human rights, including torture, forced sterilisation and forced disappearances.
"We call on China to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and her office," the countries said in a joint statement, read at the UN by France.
"We are particularly concerned about the situation in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region," the statement said.
It cited "credible" reports that "indicate the existence of a large network of 'political re-education' camps where over a million people have been arbitrarily detained".
After first denying the existence of the detention centres in Xinjiang, Beijing later justified them as "re-education" camps designed to stamp out terrorism and improve employment opportunities.
Independent investigations and interviews with former prisoners, however, recount physical and mental torture, brainwashing, systematic rape and sexual abuse, and other horrors.
Xinjiang is the only region in China with a majority Muslim population, and Chinese authorities have used various pretexts to damage or destroy two-thirds of the region's mosques and other sacred Islamic sites, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a detailed report in April.
As part of its 2018–2022 "sinicisation" plan, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities have been removing mosque domes, minarets and other symbols of Islamic architecture, and banning mosques from playing the adhan (call to prayer) on loudspeakers.
The plan is being actively implemented throughout China, and not just in Xinjiang.
Beijing has long denied accusations of ethnic cleansing of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic people in Xinjiang.
Its ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, Thursday furiously denounced what he termed "lies" and "a plot to hurt China".
"Xinjiang enjoys development, and the people are emancipating themselves every day and are proud of the progress made," he said.
Similar declarations in 2019 and 2020 condemned China for its policies in Xinjiang, where the United States has accused Beijing of carrying out genocide.
China has in response upped pressure on UN member states not to support the declarations, according to diplomats.