China on Tuesday defended its controversial detention of thousands of people in Xinjiang province in the country's northwest at the United Nations Human Rights Council and invited the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, to visit the area.
"I sincerely invite you Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner, as well as the members of the HRC members and observers to make field visits to Xinjiang and see for yourselves a beautiful, true and a hospitable Xinjiang," Vice-Governor Erkin Tuniyaz, of the ethnic Uighur minority, told the UNHCR session on Tuesday.
Tuniyaz's statement was watched closely in Geneva, as it was the first time a top official from China was to appear before the UN to discuss the detention camps. According to human rights groups, around one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are interned in Xinjiang's so-called re-education camps.
Tuniyaz claimed they were centers of "vocational education and training" that had been created to, "educate and save those who are influenced by religious extremism and committed minor legal offenses," with the aim of preventing them from becoming "victims of terrorism and extremism."
Xinjiang, which neighbors Central Asia, suffered the influence of separatist forces from the 90s until 2016 which led to thousands of violent attacks and resulted in deaths of many, according to the vice-governor.
Since the creation of the centers, "not a single case of violent terrorist attack occurred in Xinjiang, the infiltration and spreading of extremism has been effectively contained (...) significantly," Tuniyaz claimed.
In the face of allegations from human rights activists alleging that the centers were used by the Chinese government to detain entire families and force them to renounce Islam, Tuniyaz said: "the trainees can go home on a regular basis and ask for leave whenever needed."
Tuniyaz alleged that "certain countries, NGOs and media outlets ignored Xinjiang's stability and progress and maliciously criticized, smeared and slandered the counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures (...) some of them even invented stories and even fabricated false fake news."
Some of the critics also suggest that China is creating a security network that invades privacy and affects the daily lives of the Uighurs and other minorities with the help of sophisticated technologies such as facial recognition and the "big data".
Tuniyaz acknowledged the use of technologies to combat crime but insisted there was no racial or ethnic profiling.
Ahead of the vice governor's speech, Uighur activists demonstrated near the UN headquarters in Geneva to denounce the massive detention camps in Xinjiang.
The protesters shouted several slogans asking China to close down the controversial camps and protested against Xi Jinping.
They also were waving the blue and white flag of East Turkestan, the autonomous region claimed by the Uighur groups in exile, which is presently under Xinjiang. EFE-EPA