China insisted Monday there is no “arbitrary detention” and there are no “re-education centers” in its western Xinjiang region, rejecting concerns raised by a U.N. human rights committee that more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs may be being held in camps.
Beijing was responding to questions raised by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Geneva. A committee member last week cited estimates that over 1 million people in China from the country’s Uighur and other Muslim minorities are being held in “counter-extremism centers” and another 2 million have been forced into “re-education camps.”
China’s delegation told the panel that “there is no arbitrary detention … there are no such things as re-education centers.” It said authorities in Xinjiang have cracked down on “violent terrorist activities,” while convicted criminals are provided with skills to reintegrate themselves into society at “vocational education and employment training centers.”
“The argument that 1 million Uighurs are detained in re-education centers is completely untrue,” Chinese delegate Hu Lianhe said through an interpreter.
He added “there is no suppression of ethnic minorities or violations of their freedom of religious belief in the name of counter-terrorism.” But he also said “those who are deceived by religious extremism … shall be assisted through resettlement and education.”
Xinjiang has been enveloped in a suffocating blanket of security for years, especially since a deadly anti-government riot broke out in the regional capital of Urumqi in 2009. Over recent months, monitoring groups and witnesses say Uighurs have been sent into detention and indoctrination centers.
Gay McDougall, the committee vice-chairwoman who raised the detentions last week, said she wasn’t convinced by China’s “flat denial” of the detention figures. She said China “didn’t quite deny” that re-education programs are taking place.
“You said that was false, the 1 million. Well, how many were there? Please tell me,” she said. “And what were the laws on which they were detained, the specific provisions?”
There was no direct response to that in Monday’s session, which addressed a broad range of issues that went well beyond the Uighurs.
But delegation leader Yu Jianhua said some panel members had treated “some of the unsubstantiated materials as credible information.” He contended that some of that information came from groups which “seek to split China” and have links to terrorist organizations.