Long-delayed report from UN Human Rights Council says human rights abuses against mostly Muslim Uighurs stem from ‘anti-terrorism law systems’.
China’s detention of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang may amount to “crimes against humanity”, the United Nations Human Rights Council said in a long-delayed report that was finally published late on Wednesday.
The 45-page report (PDF) called on Beijing to immediately release “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty”, clarify the whereabouts of those whose families have been unable to locate them and undertake a “full review” of its laws on domestic security and repeal all discriminatory laws.
The Uighurs are a predominantly Muslim Turkic people who differ in religion, language, and culture from China’s majority Han ethnic group.
In 2018, a ground-breaking report from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination revealed some one million people were being held in a network of detention centres across Xinjiang, and UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for “unfettered” access to visit the region and assess the situation.
Bachelet, whose term came to an end on Wednesday minutes after the report was published, was finally allowed into China in May.
Following the tightly-choreographed visit, which drew criticism from human rights groups and other experts, she announced she would not seek a second term. Her office came under pressure from China not to publish the report, while other countries pushed for its urgent release.
“Serious human rights violations have been committed” in Xinjiang “in the context of the Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-“extremism” strategies,” the report said.
“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups … may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”
Beijing at first denied the camps’ existence but later said they were vocational skills training centres necessary to address “extremism”.
In a letter published in an annexe to the report, China’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva said it firmly opposed the report’s publication, claiming it was based on “disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces and out of presumption of guilt”.
“Living a happy life is the primary human right,” it added, stressing that “all ethnic groups in Xinjiang” were living a “happy life” because of the government’s move to “fight terrorism and extremism”.
It also attached its own 122-page report compiled by the Information Office of the Xinjiang government, Fight against Terrorism and Extremism in Xinjiang: Truth and Fact (PDF), defending its policies on national security.
Since the UN’s initial report on the camps in 2018, leaks of official government documents, investigations by human rights groups and academics, as well as testimony from Uighurs themselves have revealed further details about the situation in the region.
Uighurs say they have faced a host of abuses from forced sterilisation to family separation and humiliations, including being forced to eat pork or live with Han Chinese family “minders”.
Uighurs are also widely believed to be victims of forced labour in Xinjiang’s enormous cotton industry.