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UN minorities expert calls on China to grant her access to assess ethnic tensions and violence in Xinjiang Uyghur Region

UN minorities expert calls on China to grant her access to assess ethnic tensions and violence in Xinjiang Uyghur Region

GENEVA (22 December 2009 )– The UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, has called upon the Government of China to permit a comprehensive and independent assessment of the ethnic-tensions and grievances that erupted into violence in July 2009 in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, at the earliest opportunity.

“A thorough analysis of the events that took place must go to the heart of ethnic tensions in the region that underlie the terrible tragedy and appalling loss of life experienced by both communities,” stated Ms. McDougall. “It should be independent and impartial and hear the perspectives of both ethnic Han and Uyghur communities. An analysis of that nature would be a positive step towards reconciliation.”

“If the causes of the July violence are not understood and addressed in an open and transparent manner they will remain unresolved and Urumqi’s communities will be set still further apart. The possibility of further ethnic hostility cannot be discounted under current conditions,” said the UN expert.
In the immediate aftermath of the July violence, Ms. McDougall requested to make an official visit to China including the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in her capacity as UN Independent Expert on minority issues. To-date, her request has not been granted.

Ms. McDougall stated that “independent mandate holders of the UN Special Procedures system are ideally situated to carry out such an analysis. I re-state my request to visit this region in a spirit of cooperation and constructive dialogue with the government of China and all communities.” The mandate of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues requires her to promote implementation of the UN Declaration on Minorities by inter alia consultation with Governments and others.

“Community consultations as part of a wider assessment may provide information that has a bearing on the current trials that have been subject to questions regarding respect for due process rights,” the Independent Expert stated. “The apparent fast-tracking of some trials and subsequent executions send shocking signals to some communities and may serve to further inflame tensions”.

Nine individuals, mostly from the Uyghur ethnic group, were reportedly executed in November 2009 for their involvement in the violence in Urumqi. On 3 December 2009 a further five Uyghurs were reportedly sentenced to death and on 4 December two more Uyghurs and an ethnic Han were sentenced to death. Concerns remain over the whereabouts and circumstances of many others reportedly detained following the violence.

In a separate statement also published today, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, expressed grave concern about the forcible return of 22 ethnic Uyghurs from Cambodia to China. The deportees were seeking asylum in Cambodia after having fled China during the past few months, following clashes between Uyghurs and Han, in the Xinjiang region in July 2009.

Ms. Gay McDougall (United States) was appointed as the first holder of the post of UN Independent Expert on minority issues in July 2005. The mandate of the Independent Expert was established to promote implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and to identify challenges as well as successful practices in regard to minority issues.