UN human rights chief alarmed by ‘major tragedy’ in western China

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

7 July 2009 – The top United Nations human rights official today expressed her alarm at the high number of casualties sustained during this weekend’s rioting in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, calling on all people to show restraint in the wake of the “major tragedy.”

According to figures announced by the Government yesterday, over 150 people have been killed and 800 others injured during the clashes on Sunday.

“This is an extraordinarily high number of people to be killed and injured in less than a day of rioting,” said Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Although the exact circumstances that sparked the violence is not clear, longstanding tensions between the Uighur and Han Chinese ethnic groups is said to have played a major role. Reports indicate that Sunday’s demonstration was caused by clashes between the two groups at a toy factory in Guandong Province late last month.

“I urge Uighur and Han civic leaders, and the Chinese authorities at all levels, to exercise great restraint so as not to spark further violence and loss of life,” Ms. Pillay said.

She also underscored the need to maintain the right of demonstrators to exercise their freedom of expression peacefully.

“I fully recognize that the authorities have an essential duty to maintain public order,” the High Commissioner said. “However, it is vital that the authorities only resort to lethal force when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday in Geneva that in all countries, differences of opinion must be resolved peacefully through dialogue. Governments concerned also must exercise extreme care and take necessary measures to protect the lives and safety of the civilian population, he said.

Furthermore, those arrested must also be treated properly, Ms. Pillay said today, adding that they “should be accorded due process that is fully in lie with China’s own laws and international human rights standards and norms.”

She called for a transparent and independent investigation in to the causes of the rioting and why it escalated. “Such a process is essential to create trust,” she stressed. “Otherwise, there is a risk of a prolonged vicious circle of resentment, unrest and violent reaction and counter-reaction.”


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