Serious human rights violations committed in China's Xinjiang, says UN report

The assessment raised concerns about the treatment of people held in China’s so-called “Vocational Education and Training Centres”. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA - China committed “serious human rights abuses” against ethnic Muslims in the Xinjiang region under what it calls campaigns to stamp out terrorism and extremism, the top United Nations rights official said in a report that the government in Beijing had tried to block.

The report, delivered by Dr Michelle Bachelet in the final hours of her tenure, found “interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights” that affect the Uighurs, an ethnic group who are largely Muslim, and others.

The report cited testimony from interviewees alleging “patterns of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

It said holy places such as the Imam Asim Shrine in southern Xinjiang had been demolished.

“Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR (Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region) in the context of the government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-'extremism' strategies,” the report said.

The assessment raised concerns about the treatment of people held in China’s so-called “Vocational Education and Training Centres”.

“Allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence,” the report said.

“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uighur and other predominantly Muslim groups, pursuant to law and policy, in context of restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights enjoyed individually and collectively, may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” it added.

The report urged Beijing, the UN and the world at large to focus its gaze on the situation described in Xinjiang.

“The human rights situation in XUAR also requires urgent attention by the government, the United Nations intergovernmental bodies and human rights system, as well as the international community more broadly,” it said.

China firmly opposes the release by the UN Human Rights Office of its “so-called Xinjiang-related assessment”, said China’s Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva on Thursday.

The report is based on the assumption of guilt, uses false information, and is a farce planned by the United States, Western nations and anti-China forces, said Mr Liu Yuyin, spokesperson of the Permanent Mission in Geneva, in a statement on its website.

The 49-page report made no reference to genocide, one of the key allegations made by China’s critics, including the United States and lawmakers in other Western countries.

Smears and slanders

In its response, included with the report’s publication, China said the assessment ignores rights achievements made by the Chinese government, goes against the mandate of Dr Bachelet’s office and “wantonly smears and slanders China”.

“The Chinese government, pursuing a people-centred approach, upholds that living a happy life is the primary human right and has embarked on a human rights development path which conforms to the trend of the times,” the government said.

Dr Bachelet, a former president of Chile, became the first UN human rights chief since 2005 to visit China, in a trip that rights groups criticised because they said she’d be unable to make an independent assessment of the government’s rights record in Xinjiang.

She later acknowledged she’d been faced with “limitations” and hadn’t been able to meet detained Uighurs.

Her report comes less than a month after a UN slavery expert found claims of forced labour in Xinjiang to be “reasonable”.

Chinese rejection

China regularly denies all such allegations, dismissing them as efforts to smear the country and delay its economic rise.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a press briefing on Wednesday before the report came out that China “rejects” its publication. 

In an interview with German broadcaster DW News earlier this week, Dr Bachelet dismissed criticism levelled at her for the delaying the long-awaited report as “unfair”.

“I want outcomes,” she said. “Because just to speak out and have no change, for me is not enough.”

Dr Bachelet’s assessment is consistent with findings from several western governments. In one of its final acts in office, the Trump administration designated China’s crackdown on Uighurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region as genocide. The Biden administration later affirmed that finding.

Dr Bachelet said her pursuit of dialogue did not equate to condoning abuse.

“Dialogue and expanding my understanding doesn’t mean condoning, overlooking or turning a blind eye. And it doesn’t exclude speaking out,” she said in an email sent to AFP.

“The politicisation of these serious human rights issues by some states did not help. They made the task more difficult, they made the engagement more difficult and they made the trust-building and the ability to really have an impact on the ground more difficult.” BLOOMBERG, AFP

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