UN report on human rights in Xinjiang due Wednesday after long delays

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A UN report on human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, released late Wednesday after months of unexplained delays, concludes that China’s actions “could” amount to international crimes, particularly crimes against humanity.

The report by UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet arrived in the final minutes of her last day on the job and ended speculation it may never become public. The closely watched review had been criticized both by human rights advocates, who feared it was whitewashing state-sponsored abuses, and by Chinese officials, who insisted that the investigation was politically motivated. and strongly opposed its publication.

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

Richardson called on the UN Human Rights Council to open a full investigation, with the report as a guide, into the Chinese government’s actions targeting Uyghurs and others – “and to hold those responsible to account”.

The 46-page report examined many dimensions of a years-long campaign and found evidence that “serious human rights violations” were committed under the guise of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism.

“The implementation of these strategies,” he concludes, “has led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions of a wide range of human rights.”

The report found that mass detention in Xinjiang from 2017 to 2019 was “marked with patterns of torture”. There were also “serious indications of violations of reproductive rights through coercive and discriminatory enforcement of family planning and birth control policies.” Accounts of sexual violence were “credible”.

Chinese authorities should release all those who have been “arbitrarily deprived of their liberty”, the report says, and help people find information about their missing family members.

Bachelet traveled to Xinjiang, northwest China, in May, taking part in a highly orchestrated six-day government tour that critics say did little more than provide officials with a propaganda victory . At the end of the trip, Bachelet said she was unable to determine the extent of a re-education and incarceration program for ethnic Uyghurs, stressing that the visit was “not a survey “. Addressing activists and relatives of detained or missing Uyghurs who had written to her office, she said: “I heard you.

Beijing has opposed the release of the report, noting recently that hundreds of Chinese organizations in Xinjiang had sent letters to Bachelet’s office protesting the publication of such an “unauthorized and misleading” assessment.

UN human rights chief disappoints Uyghur defenders during visit to China

Despite testimonials, public records, leaked government guidelines and police recordssatellite imagery and visits to the region by diplomats and journalists who have revealed the use of forced labor and the mass detentions of an estimated 1-2 million people in re-education camps, Beijing says its years-long campaign in Xinjiang is aimed at fighting terrorism and alleviating poverty. It also denies or downplays evidence of children being separated from their parents, reports of suppressed birth rates of Uyghur residents, and evidence that Uyghur identity and culture is restricted.

Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, requested from the High Commission to “stand on the right side of history…and reject the publication of an assessment on Xinjiang based on false information and false accusations.”

For China, the timing of the report is particularly sensitive: it comes less than two months before a key political meeting for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to be given an unprecedented third term that will cement his position. strongest leader in the country since Mao Zedong.

In recent years, China – a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power – has expanded its influence within the UN, promoting an alternative version of human rights that aligns more closely with the doctrine of the Communist Party.

In 2018, the Bachelet firm announcement that he would investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Last September, she said she had not gained meaningful access to Xinjiang, but that her office was “finalizing its assessment of available information on allegations of serious human rights abuses in that region, with a view to to make them public. She finally visited in May.

In the months that followed, experts and human rights defenders waited to hear more. Last week, Bachelet admitted she was under “huge pressure to post or not to post”, but said she would not be swayed.

“We are trying very hard to do what I promised,” she told reporters in Geneva.

“China, with its massive surveillance and technological capability, is inherently capable of hiding the truth from the international community,” said Rayhan Asat, a Uyghur human rights defender and lawyer, who was interviewed for the report. . “That’s why I think this report is so important. This sends a message to the Chinese government that it is not above scrutiny. »

Some have questioned the relevance of the report given existing evidence and China’s claims that rehabilitation centers — “vocational training centers,” she calls them — have been closed.

But rights groups say that even if the most serious parts of the campaign are over, the situation should be rigorously investigated.

“It doesn’t change the fact that the Chinese government has committed crimes against humanity over the past five years,” said Richardson of Human Rights Watch. “It does not erase what has happened over the past five years and the urgent need for accountability.”

Asat added, “There must be accountability to break this cycle of impunity for powerful states.”

Kuo reported from Taipei, Rauhala from Brussels.

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