Beijing yesterday denounced a UN report that accuses it of serious human rights abuses that might amount to “crimes against humanity.”
The long-delayed report examining a crackdown on Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang region was released a day earlier, with Beijing calling it a fabrication cooked up by Western nations.
For several years, human rights groups have accused China of sweeping 1 million or more people from the minority groups into detention camps in a ruthless campaign against “extremism” that has struck fear into large segments of the population in Xinjiang.
The assessment from the UN human rights office in Geneva, Switzerland, largely corroborated earlier reporting by researchers, advocacy groups and the news media, and it added the weight of the world body to the conclusions.
Among Uighurs who have fled overseas, there was a palpable sense of relief that the report had finally been released, as many worried that it would never be published. Several saw it as a vindication of their cause and of years of advocacy work.
“The report is pretty damning, and a strong indictment on China’s crimes against humanity,” said Rayhan Asat, a Uighur lawyer whose brother is imprisoned in Xinjiang. “For years, the Chinese government has said the Uighurs are terrorists. Now, we can point to them and say: ‘You’re the terrorists.’”
Human rights groups, Japan and Germany also quickly welcomed the report, which had become caught up in a tug-of-war between China and major Western nations, as well as human rights groups that have criticized the repeated delays in releasing the document.
Many UN-based diplomats believe it was nearly complete a year ago.
The report said China has committed serious human rights abuses under its “anti-terrorism” and “anti-extremism” policies, and calls for “urgent attention” from the UN, the world community and China itself to address them.
Human rights groups renewed calls for the UN Human Rights Council, which meets next month, to set up an independent international body to investigate the allegations.
However, China showed no sign of backing off its blanket denials or portraying the criticism as a politicized smear campaign.
“The assessment is a patchwork of false information that serves as political tools for the US and other Western countries to strategically use Xinjiang to contain China,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said. “It again shows that the UN human rights office has been reduced to an enforcer and accomplice of the US and other Western countries.”
In a sign of China’s fury, it issued a 122-page rebuttal, entitled Fight against Terrorism and Extremism in Xinjiang: Truth and Facts, that was posted by the UN along with the report.
The report said former prisoners’ descriptions of detention centers were marked by patterns of torture, and other cruel and inhumane treatment, and that allegations of rape and other sexual violence appeared credible.
“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups ... in [the] context of restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights ... may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” the report said.
It made no mention of genocide, which the US and other countries have accused China of committing.
The rights office said it could not confirm estimates that 1 million or more people were detained in the internment camps in Xinjiang, but added it was “reasonable to conclude that a pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention occurred,” at least from 2017 to 2019.
Beijing has closed many of the camps, which it called “vocational training and education centers,” but hundreds of thousands of people continue to languish in prison, many on vague, secret charges.
The report called on China to release all individuals arbitrarily detained, and to clarify the whereabouts of those who have disappeared and whose families are seeking information about them.
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