China attempted on Thursday to block a prominent Uyghur activist from speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council, where he demanded the body urgently address allegations of serious violations by Beijing.
Dolkun Isa, a Uyghur activist based in Germany and president of the World Uyghur Congress, spoke up during a general debate about concerns around the world.
Pointing to a number of recent reports, including one from former U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet warning of possible crimes against humanity being committed against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's far-western Xinjiang region, he said the allegations "require the immediate and urgent attention of the council."
As soon as he began speaking, China's representative in the room Mao Yizong demanded the floor to object.
"We have reason to challenge the qualification of the speaker," Mao said, insisting that Isa was "not the representative of an NGO, and still less a human rights defender.
"Rather he is an anti-China separatist, violence element," Mao said, speaking in Chinese through an interpreter, warning that "allowing him to engage in separatist activities in the council would be in serious violation of the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter, as well as the rules of procedure of the Human Rights Council."
'Government is trying to stop me'
After Mao's objection, U.S. representative Sam Birnbaum took the floor to insist on Isa's right to address the council, the top U.N. rights body.
And council President Vaclav Balek of the Czech Republic pointed out that NGOs are free to pick the speakers who represent them during the debate, and ruled Isa was entitled to finish speaking.
Isa had been invited by the non-governmental organization Global Human Rights Defense to take its brief speaking slot during the NGO portion of the debate, which comes after the council's 47 member states and numerous observer countries have voiced their positions.
"It's not the first time the Chinese government is trying to stop me," Isa told AFP later, saying "China is trying to manipulate the U.N. rights system."
As Isa completed his statement before the council, he lamented it had failed last October to agree to even put the Xinjiang issue on the agenda, despite the findings in Bachelet's report.
That report, published minutes before Bachelet's term ended on August 31 last year, highlighted credible allegations of widespread torture, arbitrary detention and violations of religious and reproductive rights.
It brought U.N. endorsement to long-running allegations that Beijing detained more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims in prison camps.
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Isa told AFP his mother died in such a camp a few years ago, and that two of his brothers were serving lengthy sentences.
During China's intervention in the U.N. debate, representative Li Xiaomei alleged the U.S. and others "out of their own political agenda fabricate and spread disinformation" about the rights situation in China.
U.S. ambassador Michele Taylor flatly rejected that statement, pointing to the numerous expert findings of "evidence of serious abuses, including possible crimes against humanity."