The government’s arbitrary incarceration of Uyghurs and other largely Muslim ethnic groups in the western province of Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity, according to a long-delayed U.N. study that was made public over China’s objection.
The report was hailed by human rights organizations and the Japanese government after it was caught up in a power struggle between China and others who were protesting the delay and pushing for its publication.
China has violated serious human rights under its anti-terrorism and anti-extremism policies, according to the assessment published late Wednesday by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva. It demands “urgent attention” from the U.N., the international community, and China itself to address these violations.
The study carefully avoids figures and other conclusions that cannot be unambiguously confirmed while mainly corroborating prior reporting by academics, advocacy organizations, and the mainstream media. Although China showed no hint of reversing its categorical denials and characterization of the critique as a political Western smear campaign, it lends the findings more weight because of the U.N.
China’s diplomatic mission in Geneva stated that it vehemently opposed the publication of the U.N. assessment because it “ignores the human rights achievements made in Xinjiang and the harm caused by terrorism and extremism to the population,” according to a stern protest that was posted with the report by the U.N.
The complaint said, in part, that the so-called “assessment” “distorts China’s laws, willfully smears and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs” based on false information and falsehoods created by anti-China forces and out of a presumption of guilt.
One of the first foreign nations to respond to the report’s publication on Thursday morning in Asia was Japan. Its senior government spokesman pleaded on China to enhance the region of Xinjiang’s transparency and respect for human rights.
Japan is very worried about the state of human rights in Xinjiang, and according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, China must uphold global principles including freedom, fundamental human rights, and the rule of law.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urged states and the U.N. to launch an impartial inquiry into violations of human rights.
John Fisher, the organization’s deputy director of global advocacy, said, “Never has it been more crucial for the U.N. system to stand up to Beijing and to stand with victims.”
Genocide, which several nations, including the United States, have accused China of perpetrating in Xinjiang, was not included in the U.N. report.
The study included excerpts from interviews with former prisoners and other people with knowledge of the circumstances in eight correctional facilities.
It said that patterns of torture and other cruel and inhumane treatment were present in reports of the detentions, and it claimed that claims of rape and other sexual abuse looked believable.
According to the report, “the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups in the context of restrictions and deprivation of fundamental rights more generally… may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”
However, it noted that it was “reasonable to assume that a pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention occurred” at least between 2017 and 2019. The rights office said that it was unable to substantiate estimates that one million or more individuals were incarcerated in the internment camps in Xinjiang.
Many of the camps, which Beijing referred to as vocational training and education facilities, have been shut down, but hundreds of thousands of individuals are still languishing in jail or prison, many of them on nebulous, unproven charges.
According to the U.N. assessment, reports of substantial rises in arrests and long jail terms in the area clearly supported a move away from the usage of the camps and toward official detention.
The study urged China to free all those arbitrarily arrested and to provide families of those who have vanished unanswered answers regarding their whereabouts.
In some respects, the report’s publication was as significant as its substance.
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that she was under pressure from all sides to publish or refrain from publishing but that she defied all of it. She also mentioned her experience with political pressure during her two years as president of Chile.
When she announced in June that the report would be delivered before the end of her four-year tenure on August 31, a wave of back-channel efforts, including letters from governments on both sides of the issue and members of civil society, began.
The politicization of these important human rights concerns by certain states, according to Bachelet, who early on set out a willingness to work with governments, “to be quite honest, did not help,”
Failure to publish the study, according to her detractors, would have been an obvious stain on her leadership record.
The U.N. human rights office’s track record has been stained by the inexplicable delay in issuing this report, but this should not take away from its importance, according to Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International.