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UN: China’s treatment of Uighurs may be crime against humanity

The UN Human Rights Office said it sees evidence of crimes against humanity in China's Xinjiang region in an explosive report released late Wednesday by its chief Michelle Bachelet just ten minutes before her term in office was due to end.

Geneva, 1 September 2022 (dpa/MIA) – The UN Human Rights Office said it sees evidence of crimes against humanity in China’s Xinjiang region in an explosive report released late Wednesday by its chief Michelle Bachelet just ten minutes before her term in office was due to end.

“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,” the report from the OHCHR notes. It concludes that from 2017 to 2019 and potentially thereafter, people were deprived of fundamental rights.

Rights groups and Uighurs who have fled China say hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other members of minority groups have been put into forced re-education camps.

Beijing has rejected allegations of rights abuses and called them lies. It characterizes the camps as vocational training facilities.

“The Government’s blanket denials of all allegations, as well as its gendered and humiliating attacks on those who have come forward to share their experiences, and have added to the indignity and suffering of survivors,” the UN report said.

The report said incarceration was used as a form of deprivation of liberty and there had been arbitrary detention on a large scale. There were also credible reports of rape, but the extent had not been ascertained, according to the report.

While the exact number of people affected could not be determined, the office cited sources that said as many as one million people may have been detained.

The rights office spoke to people who said they were guarded by gunmen and could not leave the detention facilities of their own free will, contrary to Chinese government accounts.

They said they had little or no contact with their families and were forced to speak positively about their situation in interviews.

China’s definitions of terrorism and extremism that were used to justify its actions in the region were vague, and there were no guarantees to protect detainees from abuse, the UN said.

The UN report was supposed to be published last year but Bachelet delayed its release because she was in talks with China for months to be allowed to travel to the country.

The trip happened in June under the condition that Bachelet and her office could decide where she would go and who she would speak to without supervision from authorities.

China agreed to the demands, her office said. Bachelet travelled to Xinjiang, but by the end of the trip she refrained from criticizing the Chinese government’s actions in the region, which prompted international criticism of her.

Bachelet came under immense pressure over the report. She said last week a group of 40 governments had sent her a letter urging her not to publish it.

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said the report laid bare the “scale and severity of the human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang.”

“There can be little doubt why the Chinese government fought so hard to pressure the UN to conceal it,” Callamard said.

Now that the report has been made public, the UN Human Rights Council should set up an independent mechanism to investigate the crimes under international law, she said.

“The inexcusable delay in releasing this report casts a stain on the OHCHR’s record, but this should not deflect from its significance.”

Bachelet took up the top UN rights post in 2018. She did not seek a second term. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has not yet named a successor.

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