Forced labor ‘reasonable to conclude’ in China, says UN expert | Labor rights

Allegations that China supervises the forced labor of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang are credible and convincing, a UN expert on slavery has found.

In a report at the United Nations General Assembly, Tomoya Obokata, the special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, said it was “reasonable to conclude” that forced labor was taking place in the far western region of China, where activists say more than a million ethnic minority Muslims have been held in internment camps.

Obokata said in the report, released on Wednesday, that there was evidence of forced labor in the regional system of “vocational education and training” centers and in a poverty alleviation program that involves relocating rural workers. excess to other work.

While such programs have created jobs and income for ethnic minorities, as claimed by the government, evidence has shown that the work was in many cases “involuntary in nature”, the rapporteur said.

“Further, given the nature and extent of the powers wielded over workers during forced labour, including excessive surveillance, abusive living and working conditions, restrictions on movement through internment, threats, physical and/or sexual violence and other inhuman or degrading treatment, some cases may amount to slavery as a crime against humanity, meriting further independent analysis,” Obokata said.

Obokata said he reached his conclusion “based on an independent assessment of available information,” including victim testimony, academic research and government records.

The rapporteur’s conclusions come after the United States, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom have, in recent years, imposed sanctions on officials and companies linked to alleged human rights abuses In the region.

Alim Osman, president of the Uyghur Association of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, welcomed the UN report.

“We have been telling the world for years that China uses Uyghur slavery as an essential tool [that is] enabling the Chinese economy and making the ongoing Uyghur genocide a profitable business,” Osman told Al Jazeera.

“It is a relief to see the United Nations finally recognize the extent of these atrocities. Now, tangible actions are needed to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for these crimes based on these recent findings.

Fatimah Abdulghafur, a Uighur activist based in Sydney, Australia, called the report a “good start”.

“The UN report cannot change or stop the hellish situation of Uyghurs in Chinese-occupied East Turkestan, but that doesn’t mean the report is of no use,” Abdulghafur told Al Jazeera. , referring to Xinjiang by the name preferred by many Uighurs. . “The UN report is an official documentary account of the Uyghur/East Turkestan crisis.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused UN expert of spreading disinformation about Xinjiang [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

China has denied allegations of human rights abuses, including genocide, and credited its “vocational education and training centers” with reducing violent extremism and poverty.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Obokata of believing in disinformation, abusing his authority and serving as a “political tool for anti-China forces”.

“The Chinese government follows a people-centered development philosophy and attaches great importance to protecting workers’ rights and interests,” Wang said at a regular press conference.

“We protect the equal right of workers of all ethnic groups to seek employment, to participate in economic and social life and to share in the dividends of socio-economic progress. Some forces manipulate Xinjiang-related issues and have fabricated disinformation about “forced labor” in Xinjiang. »

In his report, Obokata also highlighted the persistence of domestic servitude in the Gulf countries, Brazil and Colombia, and traditional slavery in Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

He said forced or early marriage remained a concern in many countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, India, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bolivia , Colombia and Honduras.

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