Activists have welcomed Qatar’s decision to withdraw its signature from a letter signed last month by 37 countries expressing support for China’s policies in Xinjiang province, where about 1mn ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims are held in detention centres, according to United Nations experts. The Qatari move, which was first reported by Bloomberg on Wednesday, was made on July 18, six days after the text defending China’s human rights record was sent to the UN Human Rights Council.
Several Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Algeria, Egypt and Kuwait, were among the 37 countries to join in the open letter.
“Taking into account our focus on compromise and mediation, we believe that co-authorising the aforementioned letter would compromise our foreign policy key priorities,” Ambassador Ali al-Mansouri, Qatar’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, wrote to UN Human Rights Council President Coly Seck, according to Bloomberg.
“In this regard, we wish to maintain a neutral stance and we offer our mediation and facilitation services.”
Rabiya Kadeer, a leader of Uyghur National Movement, said Qatar’s decision to withdraw its signature is not only showing sympathy towards the Uyghur people, but more importantly it is about protecting its national image around the world. “I applaud Qatar on both aspects, and I also want to express my gratitude on behalf of the oppressed Uyghur nation to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.”
She said by doing this, Qatar has done its religious and humanitarian obligation towards the ‘oppressed’ Uyghur Muslims.
According to her, no matter whatever the excuse, anti-extremism or counter-terrorism, the act of putting innocent people in detention camps, forcefully separating people from their families and forcing people to denounce their faith is simply a crime against humanity.
She has urged China to stop its crimes and immediately shutdown the ‘concentration camps’ once and for all. Kadeer also asked the leaders of the 36 countries that signed the document ‘to question their conscience’.
Mahmoud Mohamad, vice-president of the Istanbul-based Society of Muslim Scholars of East Turkestan (SMSET), hailed the reported move by the Qatari government to remove its name from the letter, Al Jazeera reported yesterday.
“We are happy and welcome the fact that Qatar changed its position and ended its support for China’s policies against the Muslim Uyghurs,” he told Al Jazeera.
Analysts argued Qatar’s reversal marked a “return” to its cornerstone foreign policy doctrine.
“Qatar had always based its foreign policy on siding with morally just causes, especially with people aspiring to freedom and democracy in the region,” Nayef bin Nahar, director of Ibn Khaldon Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera.
Ben Nahar said Qatar’s original signature in support of China was a “rare departure” from its foreign policy doctrine.
Echoing the argument that Qatar made a “policy correction”, Mahjoob Zweiri, professor of contemporary politics of the Middle East at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera that in rescinding its support, Doha was sending a message that “it cannot close its eye” at Beijing’s mistreatment of the Uyghur population.
The July 12 joint letter had lauded China’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights” and praised it for “protecting and promoting human rights through development”.
According to officials from the Human Rights Council, Algeria had originally co-ordinated the drafting of the text.
It was released as a response to an earlier letter sent to the council, in which 22 countries expressed concern about China’s conduct in the remote Xinjiang province.
China’s government denies Uyghurs are being detained arbitrarily and held against their will. It says the camps are “voluntary” vocational training facilities, designed to offer job training and to stamp out “extremist” tendencies.
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