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Sri Lanka defends China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang at UN Human Rights Council

Sri Lanka mounted a staunch defence of China’s treatment of a Muslim minority in the Xinjiang province at the Human Rights Council on Thursday (4), slamming a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and casting doubt on the credibility of sources.

The intervention by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Ambassador C.A. Chandraprema was made during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed on his report on Countering Islamophobia/Anti-Muslim Hatred that was presented to the Council during the 46th Session.

Problems facing the Muslims community in Sri Lanka received a brief reference in Shaheed’s report, specifically referring to mob attacks against Muslims communities in which Police appeared to be complicit.

After brief remarks about the Sri Lankan Constitution upholding the right to freedom of religion and denying violence and discrimination against Muslims in the island following the Easter Sunday bombings, Ambassador Chandraprema used the remainder of his time to criticise the UN Special Rapporteur’s findings on the treatment of the Uighurs in China’s Xingjiang province.

Ambassador Chandraprema said Shaheed’s report had quoted “various Western media outlets” that had made “various sensational claims” about issues encountered by the Muslims in China.

“We have serious concerns about the credibility of these sources. We note that the policy of freedom of religion has been fully implemented in the Xinxiang province,” Ambassador Chandraprema said.

In a broadside against Western countries, the Sri Lankan Envoy said: “Many Muslim countries have been destroyed in the past two decades in the guise of promoting democracy. However, Xinxiang has been at peace and has enjoyed democracy with the rest of China during this period.”

Shaheed had also been critical of the Indian Government in his Islamophobia report which drew a harsh response from New Delhi’s representative participating in the Interactive Dialogue. However, Ambassador Chandraprema did not make a reference to the allegations against India during his intervention.  

Sri Lanka’s UN Envoy’s remarks came in Beijing’s defence came in the wake of Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colambage’s assertion that he had “seen no evidence” to suggest genocide in Xinjiang. The Foreign Secretary has called the Government of China “guardians” of the people of Xinjiang. Secretary Colambage’s interview was widely circulated in the form of a promotional video by Chinese State media.

UN experts and activists claim that one million Muslim Uighurs are detained in camps in Xinjiang Province. Last week, UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet decried the ill-treatment of the community and demanded access into the region. In February, the Dutch Parliament passed a non-binding motion saying the treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority in China amounted to genocide, the first such move by a European country.

During Thursday’s Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, China was reprimanded by the Chair for using its time to launch a scathing attack on Shaheed. The Chinese Delegation said Shaheed had relied “only on BBC and New York Times” to slander and smear China. The Special Rapporteur was “wantonly” spreading false information, the Chinese representative said, adding that Shaheed lacked “basic professional ethics and serves as a political tool for Western countries”.

“I would like to remind the speaker that I cannot allow derogatory or inflammatory remarks to be made against a special rapporteur. That is not allowed by the rules. No personal attacks should be made,” the Chair of the dialogue asserted.

Introducing his damning report about Islamophobia world over at the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, Shaheed said institutional suspicion and fear of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to epidemic proportions. 

The UN Special Rapporteur said that “numerous” States, regional and international bodies were to blame. In a report to the Council, he cited European surveys in 2018 and 2019 that showed that nearly four in 10 people held unfavourable views about Muslims. In 2017, 30% of Americans viewed Muslims “in a negative light”, the Special Rapporteur added.

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