Two United Nations human rights experts have expressed their concern over the forcible return from Cambodia to China of 20 ethnic Uighur asylum-seekers who had fled violence in their home country.
The asylum-seekers had escaped China in recent months, following the July clashes between Uighurs and ethnic Han in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, which Government figures show claimed more than 150 lives.
Nine people, mostly Uighurs, were executed last month for their involvement in the violence. Earlier this month, eight more people were sentenced to death, while concerns remain over the whereabouts and circumstances of many others reportedly detained after the clashes.
“In light of the reports of severe torture I have received following the July events and the recent executions in Xinjiang region in violation of the most basic fair trial guarantees, this is a blatant violation of Cambodia’s obligations under the principle of non-refoulement as stipulated in article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture,” said Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Mr. Nowak said the current situation is aggravated by the fact that he had previously reminded the Cambodian Government, through an urgent communication, of their international obligations.
The deportation order for the Uighurs came before they had learned of the results of their asylum applications.
“This means that the Cambodian authorities have knowingly prevented an objective determination of their refugee status under the Geneva Convention on refugees and whether the deportees would be at risk of torture, other forms of ill-treatment or the death penalty,” Mr. Nowak stressed.
He called on the Chinese authorities to treat the 20 Uighurs humanely and to grant access to them in case they are detained.
For her part, Gay McDougall, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, urged the Chinese Government to allow for a comprehensive and independent assessment of the tensions and grievances that erupted into violence in July as quickly as possible.
“A thorough analysis of the events that took place must go to the heart of the ethnic tensions in the region that underlie the terrible tragedy and appalling loss of life experienced by both [the Uighurs and the Han],” she said.
Such an assessment must be impartial and hear from both communities and would be a “positive step towards reconciliation,” said Ms. McDougall, whose application in the immediate aftermath of the July violence to visit the region still has not been granted.
Without an understanding of the causes of the July clashes in an open and transparent manner, the communities will be pushed further apart, she underscored. “The possibility of further ethnic hostility cannot be discounted under current conditions.”
The expert also voiced concern over respect for due process rights. “The apparent fast-tracking of some trials and subsequent executions send shocking signals to some communities and may serve to further inflame tensions.”
Over the weekend, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) said the forced return of the asylum-seekers on Saturday took place a day after the agency had communicated its concern to the Cambodian Government about the deportations of the 20 Uighurs which took place before their asylum cases had been assessed.
The agency stressed that “a disturbing pattern of such cases is increasingly evident around the world.”