Xinjiang report: UN report finds China may have committed ‘crimes against humanity’

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China has committed ‘serious human rights violations’ against Uyghur Muslims in its northwestern region of Xinjiangwhich could amount to “crimes against humanity”, according to a long-awaited report published on Wednesday by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The detailed 45-page report, released minutes before outgoing commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s term ends at midnight Geneva time, has been repeatedly delayed and its release has been strongly opposed by China.

The report, which documents what it describes as arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim groups in the context of “the government’s implementation of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies”, has been hailed by rights groups as a groundbreaking moment in efforts to compel the Chinese government to hand over accounts.

The report comes four years after a UN expert committee draws attention in August 2018 to “credible reports” that more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities were interned in extrajudicial camps in Xinjiang for “re-education” and indoctrination.

China has fiercely denied commit rights violations. He previously said he set up such centers as a way to fight “extremism” in the region, and has since said the facilities were closed – a claim the UN office said it could not verify.

According to the UN report, “the policies and practices described in (the region) have transcended borders, separating families and severing human contact, while causing particular suffering to Uyghur, Kazakh and other predominantly Muslim minority families. , exacerbated by patterns of intimidation and threats against members of the diaspora community who speak out publicly.

The Chinese government, which had repeatedly objected to the release of the report, responded in a 131-page document – ​​nearly three times the length of the report itself – in which he decried the findings as “based on misinformation and fabricated lies by anti-China forces” .

Beijing’s response was released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) alongside its own report after China had early access to the document to review and respond to it.

Although the report was welcomed by some Uyghurs abroad and by human rights activists, any move to continue the investigation – as the report calls for – would require the approval of member states of the UN in a body where China wields considerable influence.

Follow-up given to the other recommendations of the report, such as the publication of persons arbitrarily detained and clarification of where is missing personswould depend on the cooperation of the Chinese government.

The report focuses on what it describes as “arbitrary detention and related patterns of abuse” in what Beijing claims are “vocational education and training centers” between 2017 and 2019.

He concluded that descriptions of detentions during this period “were marked by patterns of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

The report details the findings of what the High Commission describes as years of effort to analyze and assess public documents, open sources and research materials. It also includes information collected during interviews with 40 people of Uyghur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz ethnicity. Twenty-six of those interviewed said they had been detained or worked in various institutions in Xinjiang.

“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghur members and other predominantly Muslim groups…may amount to international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” the report said.

The UN report said China’s “counter-terrorism law system” is “deeply problematic from the perspective of international human rights norms and standards” and “has in practice led to the deprivation large-scale arbitrary freedom” of the Uyghurs and other Muslim communities.

Although the High Commissioner was prevented by Beijing from conducting an on-the-spot investigation, the report included descriptions of those who had experienced the so-called vocational and educational training centers in Xinjiang, in their own words.

“I was not told why I was there and how long I would be there. I was asked to confess to a crime, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to confess,” a person interviewed by the bureau said, according to the report.

The report also states that nearly all respondents described injections, pills or both given regularly, making them sleepy, while some respondents also spoke of “various forms of sexual violence”, including cases rape, as well as various forms of sexual humiliation, including forced nudity, according to the report.

Allegations of sexual and gender-based violence “appear credible”, according to the report, but it is not possible to “draw broader conclusions” about the extent to which they were part of general patterns within the establishments based on the reports. existing information, he said. .

“The government’s sweeping denials of all allegations, along with its sexist and humiliating attacks on those who have come forward to share their experiences, have added to the indignity and suffering of survivors,” the report said.

The report states that while it cannot confirm the number of inmates in the facilities, a reasonable conclusion can be drawn from the available information that the number of individuals in the facilities, at least between 2017 and 2019, was “very significant, comprising a substantial proportion” of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority populations.

This detention system, according to the report, is also part of “the context of broader discrimination” against members of the Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim minorities on the basis of “perceived security threats” emanating from members. individuals of these groups.

These have included undue restrictions on religious identity and expression, and on privacy and movement rights. The report also pointed to “serious indications” of violations of reproductive rights through “coercive and discriminatory application of family planning and birth control policies.

He also addressed allegations of forced labor in the region, stating that employment programs for the purported purposes of poverty reduction and prevention of extremism “may involve elements of coercion and discrimination on religious and religious grounds. ethnic”.

In its response Wednesday, Beijing said the report “misrepresents” China’s laws and policies.

“All ethnic groups, including Uighurs, are equal members of the Chinese nation,” China’s response said. “Xinjiang has taken measures to fight terrorism and extremism in accordance with law, effectively curbing frequent occurrences of terrorist activities. At present, Xinjiang enjoys social stability, economic development, cultural prosperity and religious harmony. People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang live a happy life in peace and contentment. »

A separate statement from China’s mission to the UN in Geneva described the report as “a farce planned by the United States, Western countries and anti-China forces”, adding that “the assessment is a political tool and “a politicized document that ignores the facts.”

Over the past four years, the international community within the UN has done little to address allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The nations of its top human rights body have not accepted any formal calls for an investigation, while calls by UN experts for China to allow rights monitoring have been met with fierce denials from ‘wrongdoings on the part of Beijing and no invitation to free access to come and see for themselves.

This standoff within the UN has heightened the attention and importance of the High Commissioner’s report for those who have sought to hold China to account within the international system.

The report will not erase the political challenges of advancing calls for a formal UN investigation, as China wields significant influence among UN member states. But rights campaigners said it should be a wake-up call for international action.

Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, called the report “a game changer for the international response to the Uyghur crisis.”

“Despite strong denials by the Chinese government, the UN has now officially recognized that horrific crimes are happening,” he said in a statement signed by a group of 60 Uyghur organizations from 20 countries.

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