In its long-awaited report on claims of mistreatment in China‘s Xinjiang province, the United Nations has accused the country’s government of “serious human rights breaches.”
Beijing had called the study a “farce” orchestrated by Western powers, and China had asked the UN not to disclose it.
Despite China’s denials, the report evaluates allegations of maltreatment against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities.
However, “credible evidence” of torture, which could constitute “crimes against humanity,” was discovered, according to the investigators.
Over a million Uyghurs are allegedly being held in what the state terms “re-education camps” over a vast network in the province in the northwestern part of the country, and human rights organisations have been raising the alarm about this for years.
There have been allegations of rape, torture, and forced sterility, and the BBC’s own research over the past few years has found documents (such as police files identifying individuals in prison) that appear to substantiate the charges.
As usual, China has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Uyghur and other mostly Muslim populations may have been subjected to “international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” according to the UN report’s findings.
It also discovered:
Individual episodes of sexual and gender-based assault, as well as allegations of systematic torture or ill-treatment, such as forced medical treatment and harsh circumstances of confinement, are credible.
Evidence of forced implementation of family planning regulations leading to abuses of reproductive rights since 2017.
There are signs that “labor and employment programmes for the objectives of poverty reduction and avoidance of ‘extremism’… may entail aspects of coercion and discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds”
China was urged to swiftly release “all those arbitrarily deprived of liberty,” as stated in the report.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters that “so-called ideas were put together based on lies to serve political aims,” indicating that Beijing already rejects the conclusions.
Images of detainees from China’s Uyghur camps
Explain who the Uyghurs are.
The World Uyghur Congress expressed its approval of the findings and called for an immediate international reaction.
In spite of “strenuous denials” from the Chinese authorities, “horrific atrocities are occurring,” as Uyghur Human Rights Project Executive Director Omer Kanat put it.
About 12 million Uyghurs, the majority of whom are Muslims, call Xinjiang home. The United Nations has indicated that the problems highlighted in the study may have affected non-Muslim members as well.
While the United States and other governments have called China’s conduct in Xinjiang genocide, the United Nations has refrained from using that term.
Beijing, which had access to the study in advance, has denied the charges of torture and instead defended the camps as a necessary weapon in the battle against terrorism.
China has been accused of exaggerating the threat in order to justify repression of the Uyghurs, despite its repeated claims that Uyghur militants are pursuing a violent campaign for an independent state.
China’s delegates to the UN human rights council in Geneva blasted the report’s conclusions as “smearing and slandering China” and a “interference in China’s domestic affairs” on Thursday.
China claims that its concentration camps are used to teach Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities valuable lessons that will keep them from becoming radicalized.
They have some superficial similarities to schools, particularly in that students are expected to memorize propaganda slogans and acquire Chinese through rote memorization.
The cache, however, demonstrates more than ever before the brutal, involuntary character of these centers, which aim to eradicate virtually every facet of Uyghur identity in favor of blind obedience to the Communist Party.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet admitted last week that she had been under “tremendous pressure to publish or not to publish” the report, which has been the topic of considerable international attention for quite some time.
Even after multiple delays, some Western human rights groups claimed Beijing pressured her to hide negative findings.
Ms. Bachelet explained the delay by saying she was not “turning a blind eye” to the report’s contents since she was seeking communication with Beijing about it. However, this behavior was deemed “inexcusable” by Amnesty International.
The report was released a mere 13 minutes before the end of her four-year term.
British lawmaker and committee chair Tom Tugendhat called the report’s conclusions a “very serious charge,” and he dismissed Beijing’s claim that the charges were fueling anti-Chinese sentiment. All Uyghurs who have been jailed arbitrarily must be released, according to a call from Germany.
Uyghur human rights abuses have been a taboo subject and severely repressed in China for quite some time, and as of Thursday afternoon, the UN report has not been reported in Chinese mainstream media or social media platforms, so pressure from within China is doubtful.