A long-awaited report into the Chinese government from the United Nations has detailed the “serious human rights violations” in Xinjiang.
The released minutes before UN human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet’s tenured ended, states these actions of the Chinese government against Uyghur Muslims “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity”.
The report calls for urgent international response and says there is evidence of “a pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention” of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs.
China claimed that these are not detention camps, but vocational training centres opened as part of what the government describes as a counter-terrorism initiative in Xinjiang.
Reporting and accounts from witnesses have said otherwise and the UN report found there was “credible” allegations of rape and torture and “possible forced sterilization”.
It is estimated 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic groups were swept in a network of prisons and camps over the past five years.
Many of the camps have since been closed by Beijing but hundreds of thousands on vague, secret charges remain imprisoned.
The report concluded “the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups, pursuant to law and policy, in context of restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights enjoyed individually and collectively, may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity”.
It largely supports and does not go significantly beyond prior reporting by advocacy groups and others.
But it lends the weight of the UN behind the outrage that victims and families have expressed for years.
Uyghur human rights groups hailed it as a turning point in international response.
“Despite the Chinese government’s strenuous denials, the UN has now officially recognized that horrific crimes are occurring,” said Omer Kanat, the executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project pressure group.
The Chinese government attempted to stop the publication of the report and rejected the contents in its official response, saying it is “based on the disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces”.
The report calls on China to “release all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty” and to “urgently clarify the whereabouts of individuals whose families have been seeking information about their loved ones”.