UN cites possible crimes against humanity in China’s Xinjiang

GENEVA (AP) — China’s discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang could amount to crimes against humanity, the human rights office has said. UN in a long-awaited report released on Wednesday, which cited “serious” rights violations. and the patterns of torture inflicted in recent years.

The report calls for the “urgent attention” of the UN and the global community to rights abuses in Beijing’s campaign to eradicate terrorism.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, facing pressure from both sides of the issue, dismissed several Chinese calls for her office to withhold the report, which follows her own carefully crafted trip in Xinjiang in May. Beijing argued the report was part of a Western campaign to smear China’s reputation.

The report has stoked a tussle for diplomatic influence with the West over the rights of the region’s native Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups.

The report, which Western diplomats and UN officials said had been nearly ready for months, was released just minutes into Bachelet’s four-year term. It was unexpected to break significantly beyond the sweeping findings of independent advocacy groups and journalists who have documented human rights concerns in Xinjiang for years.

But the office report comes with the imprimatur of the United Nations and the countries – including notably the rising power of China itself – that compose it. The report largely corroborates earlier reports by advocacy groups and others, and injects UN weight behind the outrage that victims and their families have expressed over China’s policy in Xinjiang for years.

“Beijing’s repeated denial of the human rights crisis in Xinjiang rings increasingly hollow with this new acknowledgment of evidence of crimes against humanity and other ongoing human rights violations in the region,” Agnes said. Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International. statement.

Preparations for the report’s release have fueled a debate over China’s influence in the global body and embodied the intermittent diplomatic chill between Beijing and the West over human rights, among other sore points. .

The 48-page report says ‘serious human rights abuses’ have been committed in Xinjiang as part of China’s counter-terrorism and counter-extremism policy, which has targeted Uyghurs and other communities predominantly Muslim, between 2017 and 2019.

Report cites ‘patterns of torture’ at what Beijing calls vocational training centers, which were part of its reputed plan to boost economic development in the region, and points to ‘credible’ allegations of torture or ill-treatment , including cases of sexual violence.

Most importantly, perhaps, the report warns that the “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of such groups in Xinjiang, through measures that deprived them of “fundamental rights…may amount to international crimes, particularly crimes against humanity”.

The report was drawn in part from interviews with former detainees and others familiar with conditions at eight separate detention centers in the region. Its authors suggest that China has not always provided information, saying that requests for certain specific sets of information “have not received a formal response”.

The human rights office said it could not confirm estimates of the number of people held in Xinjiang’s internment camps, but added that it was “reasonable to conclude that a pattern of detention large-scale arbitrariness occurred” at least between 2017 and 2019.

According to information gathered during investigations by other rights monitors and journalists, the Chinese government’s mass detention campaign in Xinjiang has taken an estimated one million Uyghurs and other ethnic groups into a network of prisons and camps. over the past five years.

Beijing has closed many camps, but hundreds of thousands of people continue to languish in prison on vague and secret charges.

Beyond the camps, the report also examined reports of a sharp rise in arrests and long prison sentences in the region, saying they strongly suggested a shift towards formal incarceration as the primary means of large-scale imprisonment and deprivation of liberty – instead of the use of the “vocational training centers” once touted by Beijing.

“This is of particular concern given the vague and voluminous definitions of terrorism, ‘extremism’ and public safety offenses under national criminal law,” the report said, saying it could lead to lengthy sentences, “including for minor offenses or for participating in conduct protected by international human rights law.

China hit back, saying the UN human rights office had ignored the human rights “achievements” made together by “people from all ethnic groups in Xinjiang”.

“Based on the disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces and on presumption of guilt, the so-called ‘assessment’ distorts Chinese laws, wantonly defames and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs. China,” read a letter from the Chinese ministry. diplomatic mission in Geneva in response to the UN report.

Some countries, including the United States, have accused Beijing of committing genocide in Xinjiang. The UN report makes no mention of genocide.

Bachelet said in recent months that she had come under pressure from both sides to publish – or not publish – the report and that she had resisted everything, walking a fine line while noting her experience of political pressure at the during her two terms as President of Chile.

In June, Bachelet said she would not seek re-election as rights chief and promised the report would be released before her August 31 departure date. and governments on both sides of the issue. She hinted last week that her office might miss its deadline, saying it was “trying” to publish it before it was released.

Bachelet had set her sights on Xinjiang when she took office in September 2018, but Western diplomats have privately expressed concerns that during her tenure she had not defied China enough when d Other rights monitors had cited abuses against Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang.

In a statement from her office on Thursday morning, Bachelet said she had wanted to take “the greatest care” in handling the responses and inputs received from the Chinese government last week. These reports are usually shared with the country concerned before a final publication, but generally to verify the facts – and not to allow verification or influence of the final report.

“I said I would release it before the end of my term and I did,” she said after the report was released minutes before the end of her term.

Critics had said not publishing the report would have been a blatant black mark on his tenure, and pressure from some countries made his job more difficult.

“To be perfectly honest, the politicization of these serious human rights issues by some states hasn’t helped,” said Bachelet, who early on showed a desire to cooperate with governments.

“I call on the international community not to instrumentalize real and serious human rights problems for political purposes, but rather to work to support efforts to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights” , she added.

His trip to the region in May was widely criticized by human rights groups, the US administration and other governments as a public relations exercise for China.

Hours before publication, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said the UN chief had “no involvement” in how the report was written or treatise, citing his attachment to the independence of Bachelet.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said Bachelet’s “damning findings explain why the Chinese government fought tooth and nail to prevent the publication of its report on Xinjiang, which lays bare violations China’s massive rights”.

Richardson urged the 47-member Human Rights Council, whose next session will take place in September, to investigate the allegations and hold those responsible to account.

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Lederer reported from the United Nations. Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report.

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