Robinson said a rise has been noted in both the numbers and seriousness of complaints about abuses against Uighurs, the largest ethnic group in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. That came after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States mobilized force against Islamic extremists.
Human rights groups say China is seizing on the global campaign against terror to launch a crackdown on Uighurs who peacefully advocate greater autonomy from Chinese rule. "The allegations and information that my office has is that this is bearing down very hard on the Uighur population in Xinjiang," Robinson said. Reports point to torture, ill treatment and executions without trial, she said, without giving specific figures or examples.
Robinson said Vice Premier Qian Qichen denied China was targeting Muslims as a group. She said Qian told her that about 1,000 Uighurs have trained with the Afghanistan-based al Qaida terrorist network run by Osama bin Laden, Washington's chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Small numbers of Uighur radical separatists have waged a bombing and assassination campaign against Chinese rule for years. China has retaliated harshly with mass detentions and executions of suspected militants. Robinson's visit also highlighted U.N. efforts to get China to confront allegations of the routine use of torture by police.
In 1999, China invited the current U.N. torture inspector, Nigel Rodley, to visit. But the trip never took place because Beijing refused to let him tour prisons and police stations unannounced and to meet privately with prisoners. Both are standard conditions for a visit by the expert. Rodley, a former director of Amnesty International, is to resign his post as special rapporteur on torture on Nov. 12. A visit appears impossible before then.
Human rights groups say Chinese law enforcement officers routinely use torture to extract confessions from prisoners and criminal suspects. The banned Falun Gong spiritual movement says its followers have been singled out for torture in China's 2 1-2-year crackdown on the group. Falun Gong says more than 300 of its members have died from abuse in custody.
Robinson said she repeated concerns about reports of torture against Falun Gong followers but was not told of any investigation into the allegations. She also urged officials to clearly define torture according to a U.N. anti-torture covenant that China has ratified. Robinson said that in talks with Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya she raised the case of Xu Wenli, a jailed political dissident whose family says he is gravely ill. Wang denied Xu was sick, she said.
Robinson said she also asked about two jailed Chinese journalists and Zhao Ming, a detained Falun Gong follower who studied at her alma mater, Dublin University Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed