A broken-off minaret of Xinqu Mosque lies near a Chinese national flag near the house of worship in Changji outside Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 6, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

A broken-off minaret of Xinqu Mosque lies near a Chinese national flag near the house of worship in Changji outside Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 6, 2021. (REUTERS)

UNITED NATIONS – Dozens of countries kept up pressure on China at the United Nations on Thursday over accusations of rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region, sparking an angry response from China’s U.N. envoy.

Confrontations over Xinjiang between China and mostly Western countries, including the United States, have become a regular occurrence at both the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In a statement – part of which was read by French U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière to the General Assembly rights committee – 43 countries voiced concern about increasing “reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations,” accusing China of detaining more than 1 million people in camps.

They said the abuse accusations included “reports documenting torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children.”

Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.

China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, hit back in a statement partly read to the rights committee on Thursday.

“To the U.S. and a few other countries: Your desperate attempts to cover up your own terrible human rights record will not work,” he said.

“No matter how many times repeated, lies are still lies,” he added. “You are using human rights as a pretext for political maneuvering to provoke confrontation.”

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has been negotiating access to Xinjiang since September 2018. She told the Human Rights Council in June that she hoped to agree on terms for a visit this year to examine reports of serious violations against Muslim Uyghurs.

At the Human Rights Council in June, more than 40 countries urged China to give Bachelet immediate access.

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