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U.N. Special Rapporteur on Minority Rights Says ‘Inaction is No Longer Possible’ on China’s Human Rights Record

A security guard watches from a tower around a detention facility in Yarkent County in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on March 21, 2021. AP
A security guard watches from a tower around a detention facility in Yarkent County in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on March 21, 2021. AP

The United Nations will be judged by how it addresses China’s persecution of ethnic minorities, diplomats and human rights advocates charged Monday on the sidelines of the body’s General Assembly, calling for forceful action after a report raised the specter of “crimes against humanity.”

For years, rights watchdogs and journalists have exposed brutal treatment of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the far western region of Xinjiang, where China is accused of a ruthless campaign of torture, sexual assault and ethnic cleansing. Those accusations have been widely accepted in the West, but were given a new imprimatur with the landmark report released last month by the U.N. human rights office.

“Inaction is no longer possible,” Fernand de Varennes, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on minority rights said at a forum sponsored by the Atlantic Council and Human Rights Watch as world leaders descend on New York. “If we allow this to go unpunished, what kind of message is being propagated?”

Jeffrey Prescott, a deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, suggested the integrity of the institution was at stake in its response to China.

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