France called Tuesday for an UN-led observer mission to evaluate the treatment of China’s Uighur population and accused Beijing of “indefensible practices” against the Muslim minority.
The proposal by Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian comes as tensions rise between France and China after Paris intensified its expression of public concern over the treatment of Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region.
“Since they say my statements are baseless, we propose an international mission of independent observers, under the auspices of [UN] rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet, to visit and bear witness,” Le Drian told lawmakers in parliament.
Rights groups and experts say more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities have been rounded up in internment camps.
Speaking in parliament last week, Le Drian pointed to allegations including “imprisonment camps for Uighurs, mass detentions, disappearances, forced labour, forced sterilisations, the destruction of Uighur heritage.”
China’s foreign ministry rejected those comments as “lies,” saying that Xinjiang issues were not about human rights, religion or ethnicity but about “countering violent terrorism and separatism.”
But Le Drian stepped up his rhetoric on Tuesday, saying that in Xinjiang “there are indefensible practices that go against the universal principles enshrined in the major international human rights conventions.”
He also accused the government of “widespread surveillance of the population and a comprehensive system of repression throughout the region.”
Beijing and London have also locked horns on the issue after British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was “clear that there are gross, egregious human rights abuses going on” in the region.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin rejected the claim as “nothing but rumours and slander.”
The controversy over the treatment of Uighurs comes as tensions between the West and China rise over a draconian new security law in Hong Kong and mounting opposition to the use of products made by the Chinese telecom giant Huawei.
© Agence France-Presse