More than 20 U.N. ambassadors have sent a letter to the human rights council in Geneva condemning China’s treatment of Uighurs and other Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

U.N. diplomats from 22 mostly European nations along with Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand signed the letter. The United States has not yet signed on.

The ambassadors express concern about “credible reports of arbitrary detention … as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”

They urge China to stop detaining minorities and grant them “freedom of movement” within their communities.

FILE PHOTO: An ethnic Uighur woman carries a metal rod as she walks down a main road in the city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, July 10, 2019.

The ambassadors chose to raise their concerns in a letter instead of a resolution, which China would have undoubtedly squelched.

“The joint statement is important not only for Xinjing’s population but for people around the world who depend on the U.N.’s leading rights body to hold even the most powerful countries to account,” the Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, John Fisher, said Wednesday.

China denies holding Uighurs and others in what rights groups and former inmates call “concentration camps” aimed at forcibly integrating them into Chinese society and culture and suppressing their own culture and religion.

China calls the camps “vocational educational centers” set up to train people for jobs and steer them away from alleged extremism and the threat of terrorism.

FILE – Uighurs rest near a food stall and Beijing Olympic Games billboards in Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang province, Aug. 6, 2008.

Human Rights Watch’s U.N. director, Lou Charbonnau, told VOA he was disappointed when Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent top counterterrorism officials to visit the camps instead of his human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet.

Charbonnau said that was a confirmation of China’s claim that it is fighting terrorism instead of violating Muslim rights.

“What we have here is human rights abuses and that’s why Michelle Bachelet needs to be able to go there with her team of experts on terms that she considers acceptable so that they can make a credible and independent evaluation of what’s going on,” he said.

Charbonnau also said he hoped the United States, which has been very outspoken about alleged Chinese human rights violations, would “swallow its pride” and sign the letter.

He said the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council over the panel’s criticism of Israel was a “very shortsighted decision.”

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