Switzerland has summoned the Chinese ambassador to express concern about the human rights situation in China’s western region of Xinjiang.
“Switzerland is convinced that the best way to safeguard its interests and the respect of fundamental rights is to conduct a critical and constructive dialogue with Beijing,” the Swiss foreign ministry said on Thursday.
The ministry cited last week’s report by the United Nations human rights commissioner that said China’s “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity.
China’s foreign ministry has denied the allegations and described the UN report as “completely illegal and void”.
Beijing denies allegations of mistreatment of Uighurs in the country.
At first, it denied the existence of the camps, but later said they were vocational skills training centres needed to address “extremism” among Uighurs who differ in religion, language and culture from China’s majority Han ethnic group.
Uighurs said they have faced abuses – forced sterilisation, family separation and humiliations, forced to eat pork or live with Han Chinese family “minders”.
It is also widely believed that Uighurs are victims of forced labour in Xinjiang’s giant cotton industry.
Neutral Switzerland has walked a diplomatic tightrope with Beijing, playing down prospects for embracing Western sanctions against China over its human rights record as Bern pursues a “special path” with a key trade partner.
In unveiling a new strategy on China last year, Bern announced few concrete policy changes and stressed the importance of bilateral ties.
But it spoke more openly about its disapproval of China’s human rights record than it has tended to do in the past.
In 1950, Switzerland was one of the first Western countries to recognise Communist China.
Since 2010, China has been its biggest trading partner in Asia and its third-largest globally after the European Union and the United States.
A bilateral free trade agreement took effect in July 2014, and the two countries this year launched a joint platform for stock listings and trading.__Al Jazeera