The former executive director of Human Rights Watch is calling on the new U.N. high commissioner for human rights to make accountability for crimes committed by China in Xinjiang and Russia in Ukraine his top priority.
Former Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth Friday called China the biggest task facing new U.N. rights chief Volker Turk. He said Turk will have to deal with the fallout from the Xinjiang report issued by Michelle Bachelet minutes before leaving her post as high commissioner.
He told a press conference the report sets forth a devastating picture of the persecutions facing more than a million Uyghurs and other minority Muslims incarcerated in so-called vocational centers. He said this situation cries out for action by the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“The U.N. Human Rights Council has never criticized China. This is a huge gap in the universality of the principles that it claims to uphold. And it should not close its eyes to what now is a matter of an official U.N. report, is this horrible situation of possible crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” he said.
Roth said council members should press for a resolution condemning China’s action in Xinjiang and ensuring accountability for the crimes committed. He acknowledged this would not be easy but said it is a winnable battle.
He said the council should also press for a special rapporteur on Russia’s domestic repression of its people, which he said is making possible the war crimes committed by Russian troops in Ukraine.
“I think the two activities on both sides of the border have to be understood in tandem. That Putin is doing everything he can to suppress anti-war sentiment within Russia by mounting the most intense repression since Soviet days,” he said.
He said appointing a special rapporteur to investigate repression within Russia will enable the council to address war crimes committed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine.
Roth recognized it will be difficult for Turk to take on the two powerful nations, but said it is doable. He said there is broad European Union support for action against Russia and that support among council members also is growing to confront China’s human rights record.
He said it is hard to think of a more important task before the council than finally showing that China is no longer an exception to the application of basic human rights rules.