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The UN human rights chief released a long-delayed report on abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, despite substantial pressure from Beijing to block the report for much of a year.
The 48 pages document concludes that “serious” human rights violations have been committed against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in the region in the name of the fight against terrorism.
It also indicates that “the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention…may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity”.
The report comes as Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, served her last day in office, after announcing earlier that she was not seeking another term for “personal reasons”. .
Xinjiang, a huge resource-rich region in western China, is where authorities have since 2017 arbitrarily detained and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghurs, as well as other historically Muslim minorities such as like Hui and Kazakhs.
China first refuse he detained ethnic minorities, but later came to characterize the detention camps and intensive digital surveillance and policing that blanket the region as counter terrorism and economic development initiatives.
However, former detainees in Xinjiang described accounts of physical and mental harm torture in detention centers in the region and an extensive network of prisons. Data leaks and whistleblower accounts have surfaced Chinese government internal documents confirming the extralegal detention of ordinary Uyghurs and the prison conditions in which they are held and “re-educated” to be loyal to the Chinese state.
The UN said it interviewed dozens of people with direct, first-hand knowledge of the situation in Xinjiang, including 26 who said they had been detained or worked at “various facilities” in the region since 2016.
“Allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and poor prison conditions, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence,” the UN report said. .
He called on China to take a number of steps, including releasing the detainees, undertaking a comprehensive review of the legal framework for counterterrorism work in the region, investigating allegations of rights violations and providing “adequate remedy and reparation” to victims.
Prior to the report’s release, China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun said Beijing was “firmly against” it.
“We all know so well that the so-called Xinjiang problem is a fabricated lie [made] for political reasons, and its purpose is certainly to undermine China’s stability and hinder China’s development,” he told reporters.
Bachelet, the former president of Chile, expressed a desire to visit the region herself after beginning her tenure as the top UN human rights official in 2018.
In May of this year, she finally managed to visit Xinjiang as part of a controversial six-day fact-finding mission, which human rights activists critical to be highly staged by the Chinese authorities. During the visit, she also spoke by video with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a conversation during which Chinese media the city as praising the country’s human rights record.
“She expressed her admiration for China’s efforts and achievements in eradicating poverty, protecting human rights and achieving economic and social development,” according to a reading by the news agency. Chinese state official Xinhua.
But nearly 10 months after Bachelet floated the idea of writing a report on human rights conditions in Xinjiang, his office had yet to finalize a date, baffling diplomats and activists.
Reuters reported earlier this summer that Chinese diplomats at the UN circulated a petition pressuring other countries to help China bury the report.
And just this week, Bachelet seemed backpedal on his commitment to publish the report, saying there was “tremendous pressure to publish or not to publish”. She said her office had received “substantial input” from China on the report, which they needed to review before publishing it.
Rights groups say China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, quickly developed coercive leverage within the multinational institution, in part to thwart a serious investigation into violations. human rights.
“China has introduced competing narratives to the UN that attempt to block or weaken UN resolutions on civil society and human rights,” he said. virtual moneysenior researcher on China at the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.
Michele Kelemen contributed reporting.