DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Destro. Good afternoon, and thank you to the many distinguished guests joining us here in New York today for this important event.
I want to acknowledge first my esteemed diplomatic colleagues from Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom – all of whom are co-sponsoring today’s side event. We are joined today by representatives from over 20 non-governmental organizations and over 30 UN member states, as well as representatives of the European Union. I am particularly grateful to the delegation from the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, representing 57 Muslim- majority member states as “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” Thank you for being here. Most importantly, I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to the panelists who will be courageously sharing their experiences and taking questions from the audience.
A few brave survivors of the internment camps in Xinjiang first testified on the world stage last March in Geneva. We have gathered this afternoon to again bear witness to what too many individuals have suffered at the hands of the Chinese government. We will hear first-hand accounts today that separate truth from fiction when it comes to China’s brutal campaign of repression of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.
Let’s start with some facts.
One: According to our own estimates as well as those of independent organizations such as Amnesty International and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Chinese government has detained more than one million individuals in internment camps in Xinjiang since April 2017. We have received credible reports of deaths, forced labor, torture, and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment in these camps. Additionally, there are many reports that the Chinese government forces detainees to renounce their ethnic identities as well as their culture and religion. One can be detained for simply possessing books on religion and Uighur culture, reciting the Quran at a funeral, or even wearing clothing with the Muslim crescent.
Two: China claims these internment camps are “humane job-training centers,” but the detainees include accomplished medical doctors and academics, successful business people and other professionals, as well as young children and the elderly. Doctors, professors, and children don’t need job training. Doctors need to be able to care for their patients. Professors should be writing and teaching, and children should be learning and playing.
Three: China’s highly repressive campaign extends far beyond the camps. Xinjiang is subject to pervasive, arbitrary high-tech surveillance and involuntary collection of personal data, including DNA samples. The use of these techniques has spread to other parts of China and has been exported to other countries as well. They are a core focus of China’s campaign to suppress human rights and fundamental freedoms – not just in their country, but increasingly, around the world. It’s nothing short of Orwellian.
Four: The Chinese Communist Party has shown extreme hostility to all faiths since its founding seventy years ago – and this repression has only intensified in recent years. For many years, it has restricted the free and independent practice of Christianity, which has only grown in recent years. In an effort to eradicate any faith that the CCP deems a threat to its ideology, children are banned from attending church services.
This egregious suppression of religious freedom is an example of the troubling global trendlines President Trump addressed yesterday. It’s an example of the sort of state-sponsored behavior the United States will not ignore.
In Xinjiang, the Chinese government prevents Muslims from praying and reading the Quran, and it has destroyed or defaced a great number of mosques. Men’s beards are forcibly shaved.
Women’s hijabs are removed, and they are required to dress in ways they consider immodest. Muslims are forced to eat pork and drink alcohol. The Chinese Communist Party outlawed the observance of Ramadan five years ago.
The Chinese government also places Communist Party members in Uighur homes to monitor whether they are engaging in religious practices.
This is a systematic campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to stop its own citizens from exercising their unalienable right to religious freedom.
Five: Let us be clear—China’s repressive campaign in Xinjiang is not about countering terrorism. If you have not read Ambassador Sales’ and Ambassador Brownback’s May article on this subject in the Washington Post, I encourage you to do so. Their piece reveals China’s attempts to erode the long-standing and hard-won international consensus on how to fight real terrorists – through law enforcement, information-sharing, border security, respect for human rights, and other measures. Put simply: Beijing’s actions and statements are counterproductive. These efforts could, in fact, encourage radicalization by denying people the right to engage in peaceful, normal religious practices. Recently, China has taken to calling the pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong “terrorists,” revealing the CCP’s own intentional misapplication of the term.
Beijing wrongly insists that its actions are undertaken in a humane manner. China has hosted Potemkin tours in a failed attempt to prove it. But if there were nothing to hide, diplomats and independent investigators would be allowed to travel freely throughout Xinjiang, and for that matter, Tibet. We must ask ourselves: what is the Chinese Communist Party afraid of? What are they trying to hide?
Now, I should stress that the U.S. government is not the only source of this information. Despite limitations on independent access to the area, there are countless open source, academic, and news organizations that offer credible evidence that contradicts China’s propaganda. The group, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, has conducted in-depth research, as has the independent researcher Adrian Zenz, and Human Rights Watch. Much of their work relies on data and documents from the Chinese government itself. Credible news organizations including the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the BBC and many others have published hard-hitting reports attesting to the realities on the ground in China.
Despite claiming to be a leader in the international community, China openly flouts key aspects of the UN’s foundational documents. We do not view these as a menu of options – they are inseparable pieces of a whole. China is a signatory to these documents, like the UN Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These were designed to protect fundamental human freedoms and build a better, more peaceful world, not to be discarded when politically inconvenient.
We cannot be the only guardians of the truth nor the only members of the international community to call out China and demand that they stop. The United Nations Charter clearly says that “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all” is a core purpose of the institution. The UN and its member states have a singular responsibility to speak up when survivor after survivor recount the horrors of state repression.
In June of this year, Beijing invited Under-Secretary-General for Counterterrorism Vladimir Voronkov to visit Urumqi in his capacity as the UN’s top counterterrorism official. Over U.S. objections, and serious concerns expressed by many others in this room, Voronkov agreed and became the senior-most UN official to visit Xinjiang, legitimizing China’s false narrative that what it is doing there is counterterrorism. It is not. Instead of bolstering the UN’s moral authority by resisting Beijing’s cynical offer, we witnessed the erosion of UN leadership and a blow to the reputation and credibility of a body we should instead look to as a clear voice of conscience. This must not happen again.
We call on the UN to uphold its own values and carry out the many responsibilities we have entrusted to it. The UN must seek the immediate, unhindered, and unmonitored access to Xinjiang for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The United Nations, including its member states, have a responsibility to stand up for the human rights of people everywhere, including Muslims in Xinjiang. We urge the UN to investigate and closely monitor China’s rights abuses, including the repression of religious freedom and belief. It is incumbent on every member state in this room to ensure that the UN is able to do its work.
Before I close, I would like to take the opportunity to commend those who have already joined us in standing up for the rights of the more than one million members of ethnic and religious minority groups the Chinese government is abusing. We invite others to join the international effort to demand and compel an immediate end to China’s horrific campaign of repression.
History will judge the international community for how we respond to this attack on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Together we must seek to understand the truth and act on it – and so I thank you again for taking the important step of bearing witness today.
Assistant Secretary Destro, the floor is yours.
(Assistant Secretary Destro gave remarks.)
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Thank you all for coming today. I know this is a busy week, and I appreciate you all joining us to demonstrate just how important this issue is for all of us. Thank you, Ambassador Brownback, for guiding today’s discussion. And I want to again thank each of the panelists for the fearlessness and conviction with which they spoke. You all spoke from a place of strength, resilience, and fortitude that I am sure has made a lasting impression on every person in this room.
We cannot—and indeed must not—forget what we have heard today. It is incumbent on each and every member state in attendance to examine what more can be done to raise the costs of China’s outrageous behavior and to implore the UN to fulfill its obligation to the international community it was established to serve. I ask each of you today to go back to your capitals and share the truth as it has been shared with us. It is, after all, the very least we can do. Thank you.