Remarks at a UN Third Committee Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune

Jason Mack
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 22, 2019


Thank you Special Rapporteur Bennoune for your report on the importance of access to public spaces for the exercise of cultural rights. Throughout the report, the text notes rightly the relationship between individuals’ use of public spaces and the exercise of their freedoms of expression, association, and religion or belief, as well as their right of peaceful assembly. In this regard, we are greatly disturbed that China is removing Uighurs (Wee-gers), ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang (“Shin-jeeyahng”) from the public space in a blatant effort to repress their cultural and religious identities. To emphasize, China is not just temporarily restricting access to public spaces, China is detaining persons from these groups in re-education camps reminiscent of the 1930s while forcing them to renounce their ethnic identities, religious beliefs, and cultural and religious practices. China’s claims that this arbitrary, mass detention is necessary to counter so-called “extremism” are not credible. In fact, the inhumane treatment these minority groups experience as detainees increases the risk of resentment and radicalization to violence.

The United States firmly believes that the expression of cultural identity is an essential part of inclusive, quality education. We are, therefore, gravely concerned about prohibitions on the use of the Uighur language in China’s Xinjiang region classrooms. Credible reports of children being forcibly placed in Mandarin-language boarding institutions for indoctrination – severed from all aspects of the Uighur culture and society – are deeply troubling.

We urge the Chinese government to close the detention camps and to respect the cultural, linguistic, and religious identities of the people of Xinjiang.

Special Rapporteur Benane, aside from physical public spaces, your report notes that virtual spaces are important fora for expression of cultural identity. Are there specific steps that stakeholders can take to make virtual spaces conducive to freedom of expression, including cultural expression, religion, and belief?