US rights group calls for action against China over Xinjiang

BEIJING • Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said China's actions in Xinjiang could meet criteria for crimes against humanity, calling for a UN investigation into alleged widespread abuses and for businesses to shun goods made in the region.

China yesterday firmly opposed the US-based activist group's accusations. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular news briefing that the report is "purely rumours and smears".

The HRW said on Monday there was evidence of ongoing egregious abuses targeting Turkic Muslims, which include Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people. Beijing has consistently denied all accusations of abuse in north-western China's Xinjiang region.

"Given the gravity of the abuses against Turkic Muslims, there is a pressing need for concerned governments to take strong, coordinated action to advance accountability," the HRW said.

United Nations experts and rights groups say China has detained over a million Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang since 2017 as part of a broad crackdown in the region.

The HRW report cited cases of torture, enforced disappearances, labour transfers, sexual violence and other abuses based on evidence including witness testimonies, government documents and media reports.

Mr Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, said that such crimes were among the gravest under international law. "Concerned governments should be imposing targeted sanctions - visa bans, economic restrictions and the like. They should be pursuing criminal cases under the concept of universal jurisdiction," he told a news conference.

Firms that cannot ensure their supply chains for textiles or other goods were not made using forced labour in Xinjiang should stop doing business there, the report said.

The report provides a legal framework for how Beijing's actions in Xinjiang could meet the criteria for crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Last December, the ICC said it would not pursue an investigation into the mass detentions because the alleged crimes took place inside China, which is not party to The Hague-based court.

Mr Wang yesterday said the HRW has always been "full of prejudice, making false statements" . He said the purpose of fabricating lies by various Western countries and anti-China forces is "to suppress relevant parties and enterprises in China, undermine the stability and security of Xinjiang, and thereby contain China's development".

"There is no such thing as the so-called situation of 'Uighurs being detained in Xinjiang'," he added.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2021, with the headline 'US rights group calls for action against China over Xinjiang'. Subscribe