Human rights in Xinjiang: Guterres calls on China to follow the recommendations of the UN

The United Nations secretary-general on Thursday backed the report of his Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on violations of the rights of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region, described by Beijing as a “political tool” written by “henchmen” of the West.

Antonio Guterres called on China to “follow the recommendations” of the report, which “confirms what the secretary-general has been saying for some time about Xinjiang: that human rights must be respected and that the Uighur community must be respected,” said Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

The nearly 50-page text “is completely illegal and invalid,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in Beijing.

“This report is a bunch of misinformation and a political tool for the strategy of the United States and the West, which aims to use Xinjiang to hinder (the development) of China,” he accused.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the release of the report and demanded that Beijing be held accountable for what the U.S. called genocide.

Despite pressure from Beijing, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its long-awaited report on the situation in Xinjiang on Wednesday evening.

A mixture of interviews conducted by its services and first and second hand information, it raises the possibility of crimes against humanity in the region.

Xinjiang and the rest of China have long been plagued by bloody attacks blamed by the government on Uighur separatists and Islamists the region’s largest ethnic group.

In response, the authorities have launched a relentless campaign in the name of anti-terrorism, with ubiquitous military police, widespread identity checks and a vast network of surveillance cameras.

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Western studies accuse Beijing of interning more than a million Uighurs and members of other Muslim ethnic groups in re-education camps and even of imposing forced labor or forced sterilizations.

China denounced biased reports and spoke of “vocational training centers” intended to develop employment and eradicate extremism. It denies any “forced sterilization”, saying it is only applying the national policy of birth control.

The UN report does not corroborate the figure of one million people, but states that “a significant proportion” of Uighurs and members of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang have been interned.

It describes a “pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention” in the region “at least from 2017 to 2019” in facilities under tight security.

The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim groups may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity, the report says.

“The OHCHR created this report out of thin air, relying on the political conspiracy of some anti-Chinese forces abroad,” Wang Wenbin blasted.

Completely deflated

Without confirming them, the UN report also considers credible the accusations of torture, sexual violence and even rape in the internment facilities in Xinjiang.

It is not possible to draw broader conclusions as to whether there have been wider patterns of sexual and gender-based violence in these centers, the UN notes.

The report does not, however, endorse Western accusations of forced labor but points to elements of coercion in the Xinjiang employment promotion program.

Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, whose last day at the helm of the High Commission was Wednesday, kept her promise in extremis by releasing the document shortly before midnight in Geneva.

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New investigation

Although it does not contain any revelations, this report brings the seal of the UN to the accusations that have long been made against the Chinese authorities. Its publication had been the subject of intense pressure.

Human rights organizations and the United States, which has identified China as its strategic rival, wanted to make it public. Beijing, on the other hand, was strongly opposed.

Some foreign-based Uyghur organizations welcomed the report, but others wished it had been more forceful in condemning China.

This is a game changer for the Uyghur cause internationally, said Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project. The UN has just officially recognized that horrible crimes are being committed.

But Salih Hudayar, a Uyghur based in the United States where he campaigns for Xinjiang’s independence, told AFP on Thursday that the report is unfortunately not as strong as we had hoped.

On the diplomatic front, the European Union “welcomed” the report, saying, according to its head of diplomacy Josep Borrell, that it “highlights the serious violations of human rights that occur in Xinjiang. London, for its part, considered that the report shames China.