They want the UN Human Rights Council, whose members include the UK, to adopt a resolution on the issue when it opens its main annual session on 25 February.
China initially denied the existence of the camps before describing them as voluntary “vocational training centres”. It claims its “Strike Hard Campaign” in Xinjiang is tackling terrorism and religious extremism.
Former inmates have reported that Muslims are denied contact with family members, forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the Communist Party and in some cases subjected to torture.
“The abuse in Xinjiang today is so severe that it cries out for international action,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
“The purpose of this detention is to erase the ethnic and religious identities of Turkic Muslims and ensure their loyalty to only the Chinese government, the Communist Party and the would-be leader for life, President Xi Jinping.”
Mr Roth said the situation called for cooperation between the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, who jointly set up a UN investigation into crimes against Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar in September.
“In our view Xinjiang demands a similar response,” he added.
Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International, said that UN member states “must not be cowed by China’s economic and political clout”.
“Today Xinjiang has become an open-air prison,” he added. “A place where Orwellian high-tech surveillance, political indoctrination, forced cultural assimilation, arbitrary arrests and disappearances have turned ethnic minorities into strangers in their own land.”
Last month British MPs heard the detention of Uighur Muslims in China amounted to human rights abuse on a scale not seen since the era of Chairman Mao, when an estimated 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death.
The authorities have imposed an increasingly strict security regime in the region since 2017, including armed checkpoints and streets lined with facial recognition-equipped CCTV.
In one city, Hami, Uighurs were ordered to hand themselves in if they followed “problematic” Islamic practices such as abstention from alcohol.
Michael Ineichen of the International Service for Human Rights said: “It is really a test of the credibility of the Human Rights Council. We think it is time that membership also comes with scrutiny.”
Additional reporting by Reuters
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies