Feb 23, 2021 - World

Rights groups question Columbia over professor's interview

Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York. Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, evaded questions about China's genocide against Uyghurs during an interview last month, a coalition of 18 advocacy and rights groups sent a letter to the university but have received no response.

The big picture: The Chinese government is known to punish people who criticize its abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, leading to an epidemic of self-censorship among those with ties to the country.

What Sachs said: In a Jan. 24 interview with The Wire China, Sachs responded to two questions about China's genocidal policies in Xinjiang by accounting America's own human rights failings.

  • "We have huge human rights abuses committed by the U.S. on so many fronts that the first thing we need to do is think of Jesus’s admonition: Why do you look at the mote in the other’s eye, and not the beam in your own?" Sachs said.
  • Sachs said nothing about China's repression of the Uyghurs despite repeated prompting from the interviewer.

In response, 18 advocacy organizations, including Hong Kong Global Connect, Campaign for Uyghurs, and Columbia Stands with Hong Kong, sent a letter to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger expressing concern over the remarks.

What they're saying: "Professor Sachs aligns perfectly with the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ attempts to deny responsibility for their treatment of the Uyghurs by digressing to the history of U.S. rights violations, all the while avoiding discussions of their own," the letter's signatories wrote.

  • "By highlighting the perspective of the PRC government and trivializing the perspective of those oppressed by that government, Professor Sachs betrays his institution’s mission."

Bollinger's office did not respond to a request for comment.

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