UN expert concludes 'forced labour' has taken place in Xinjiang

Workers manufacturing protective equipment at a factory in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, on Jan 27, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - It is "reasonable to conclude" that forced labour of members of minority groups has taken place in China's western Xinjiang region, the United Nations' top expert on slavery said in a report released this week, prompting a fierce response from Beijing.

The findings were "based on an independent assessment of available information", the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Mr Tomoya Obokata, said in a report that he shared on his Twitter account on Tuesday (Aug 16).

"The Special Rapporteur regards it as reasonable to conclude that forced labour among Uighur, Kazakh and other ethnic minorities in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing has been occurring in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China," it said.

China rejects all accusations of abuse of Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

The report, dated July 19, is publicly available in a UN documents library.

It said that two distinct "state-mandated" systems exist in Xinjiang: a vocational skills education and training centre system, where minorities are "detained and subjected" to work placements, and a poverty alleviation through labour transfer system involving rural workers.

"While these programmes may create employment opportunities for minorities and enhance their incomes, as claimed by the government, the Special Rapporteur considers that indicators of forced labour pointing to the involuntary nature of work rendered by affected communities have been present in many cases," said the 20-page report, which also covered contemporary slavery-related issues and concerns in other countries.

China's foreign ministry on Wednesday reiterated Beijing's stance, saying that there had never been forced labour in Xinjiang. It also heavily criticised the report's findings and defended China's record on protecting workers' rights.

"A certain special rapporteur chooses to believe in lies and disinformation about Xinjiang spread by the US and some other Western countries and anti-China forces," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing in Beijing.

"China strongly condemns this," he said.

Mr Wang added: "We protect the equal right of workers from all ethnic groups to seek employment, to participate in economic and social life, and to share the dividends of socioeconomic progress."

Mr Obokata's report is separate from a highly anticipated report on human rights in Xinjiang being prepared by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, who has pledged to publish it before leaving office at the end of this month.

Reuters reported last month that China has sought to stop Ms Bachelet from releasing her report, citing a Chinese letter reviewed by Reuters and diplomats who received it.

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