By Leigh Hartman

What if your culture was banned by your government? Or your child was taken from you and raised speaking another language? Your wife or daughter sterilized without her consent? Wouldn’t you want the world to know?

On October 21, the United States, France, Luxembourg and Belgium joined 39 other countries in calling for the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) leaders to allow independent observers “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to China’s Xinjiang region.

In a joint statement at the United Nations, the countries cite increasing reports of “widespread and systematic human rights violations” by the PRC against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups. They cite abuses including torture, child separation, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and “severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association and expression.”

“We urge China to ensure full respect for the rule of law and to comply with its obligations under national and international law with regard to the protection of human rights,” says the statement read at the U.N. by French Ambassador to the United Nations Nicolas de Rivière.

Since 2017, the PRC has detained more than 1 million ethnic minority group members in Xinjiang. And in March, the U.N. Human Rights Council raised serious concerns about the detention and forced labor of Uyghurs in China.

Given reports of human rights abuses, the 43 nations call “on all countries to respect the principle of non-refoulement,” or to not forcibly repatriate Uyghurs or other minority group members back to the PRC where they may face persecution.

Some Uyghurs studying abroad have already opted to remain in Europe rather than risk danger upon return to Xinjiang. And a Belgian professor has urged researchers not to use data taken from Uyghurs without their consent in scientific studies, underscoring growing concerns that scientific advances and technology can be used as tools of oppression.

The biological data collection is part of the PRC’s mass surveillance in Xinjiang, a system that includes cameras equipped with facial recognition technology that has turned the region into an open-air prison.

The countries that joined the statement are: Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Eswatini, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Marshall Islands, Monaco, Montenegro, Nauru, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Banner image: A guard stands watch near a detention facility in Xinjiang March 21. Nations are condemning the People’s Republic of China’s detention of Uyghurs and other members of ethnic minority groups. (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)