To help Uighur Muslims, Switzerland should negotiate China trade pact, says NGO

Uighurs and their supporters rally across the street from United Nations headquarters in New York on March 15, 2018. (File photo: AP)

Switzerland should renegotiate its six-year-old free trade agreement with China to bolster human rights protections for its Uighur Muslim minority, the Society for Threatened Peoples activist group said on Monday.

The demand to the Swiss government comes as France, the US and others also pressure China over the treatment of Uighurs in its far western Xinjiang region, as well as a Hong Kong security law that some contend infringes on rights in the former British colony.

UN experts and activists say at least a million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centers in Xinjiang.

China calls them training centers helping to halt terrorism and extremism and teaching new skills.

Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China on September 4, 2018. (AP)

Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China on September 4, 2018. (AP)

“The current free trade agreement between Switzerland and China does too little to prevent forced labor products from reaching Switzerland and even receiving tariff concessions,” the Germany-based Society for Threatened Peoples said in a statement with other groups, including the Uighur Association Switzerland.

Switzerland exported 21.4 billion Swiss francs ($23.41 billion) in goods to China in 2019, while importing goods worth 15.1 billion francs from China, official data show.

Switzerland struck its pact with China in 2014, saving Swiss companies and counterparts potentially hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs said there were already mechanisms to address concerns like those being raised, without the pact being overhauled.

“The Free Trade Agreement Switzerland-China already has several indirect references to human rights, so a revision is not necessary,” it said in a statement. “Human rights initiatives that have a link to the free trade agreement can be brought up in the agreement’s mixed committee.”

In a media interview a month ago, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis acknowledged “rising human rights violations” in China and said “if China abandons the ‘one country, two systems’ principle in Hong Kong, it will affect Swiss companies invested there.”

The Chinese consulate in Switzerland did not respond to an email.

China’s treatment of Uighurs and the Hong Kong security law may be discussed at the United Nations Human Rights Council regular session that opens Sept. 14.

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Last Update: Monday, 07 September 2020 KSA 18:02 - GMT 15:02
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