An estimated one million mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are held in internment camps in the northwest region of Xinjiang — a system that Beijing defends as necessary to counter religious extremism and terrorism.
The UN letter “attacks, slanders, and has unwarranted accusations against China,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing in Beijing. “It is a public politicisation of human rights issues and wantonly interferes in China’s internal affairs,” he added. After initially denying their existence, Beijing has gone on a public relations blitz in a bid to counter the global outcry against what it calls “vocational education centres”.
Since last October, the local government has also organised tours of the camps for diplomats and media outlets. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has requested a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang and China has extended an open invitation for her to visit the region. But the international official typically only undertakes such national visits provided the host government offers guarantees on certain conditions — including unfettered access to key sites. Beijing was also forced on Thursday to defend its human rights record from criticism by Slovakia and Britain.