FILE - Armed civilians patrol the area outside the Hotan Bazaar where a screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hotan in western China's Xinjiang region, Nov. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
The United Nations has said China carried out serious human rights violations that may be considered “crimes against humanity.”
The accusation came in a newly published report examining the treatment of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups. The groups live in the country’s far-western Xinjiang area.
China immediately denounced the report, calling it false information created by Western nations.
For several years, human rights groups have accused China of detaining millions of Uyghurs in a severe extrajudicial campaign against extremism.
The report from the U.N. human rights office largely confirmed earlier reporting by researchers, activists and the news media. But it is not clear what impact the report might have.
Among Uyghurs who have fled overseas, there was a sense of satisfaction that the report was published. There had been concerns that it would never be released.
“The report is…a strong indictment of China’s crimes against humanity,” said Rayhan Asat. She is a Uyghur lawyer whose brother is imprisoned in Xinjiang. “For years, the Chinese government has said the Uyghurs are terrorists. Now, we can point to them and say, you’re the terrorists.”
Human rights groups worldwide and the governments of Japan and Germany also welcomed the report. The assessment found that China has carried out serious human rights violations under its anti-terrorism and anti-extremism policies. It called for “urgent attention” from the U.N., the international community and China itself to deal with the violations.
Human rights groups repeated their calls for the U.N. Human Rights Council to set up an independent international body to investigate the reported abuses. The group is set to meet next month.
Chinese officials continue to deny the accusations, saying the report is a political effort to criticize China.
“The assessment is a patchwork of false information that serves as political tools for the U.S. and other Western countries to strategically use Xinjiang to contain China,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said.
The report’s findings were based on talks with former detainees and others familiar with conditions at eight detention centers.
The report said that descriptions of the detentions were marked by signs of torture and other cruel and inhumane treatment. It said that accusations of rape and other sexual violence appeared believable.
The report did not use the term genocide. Some countries, including the United States, have used the term to describe China’s policies in Xinjiang in recent years.
The U.N. rights office said it could not confirm estimates that one million or more people were detained in internment camps in Xinjiang. But the office said it was “reasonable to conclude” that a huge number of “arbitrary” detentions took place in Xinjiang between at least 2017 and 2019.
China has closed many of the camps, which the government called job training and education centers. However, hundreds of thousands of people continue to be held in prison, many on unclear, secret charges.
The report called on China to release all individuals who were arbitrarily detained, to explain their whereabouts, and to inform their families who are seeking information about them.
Japan, which has recently become more critical of China’s actions in Xinjiang, was one of the first foreign governments to comment on the report.
“Japan is highly concerned about human rights conditions in Xinjiang, and we believe that it is important that universal values such as freedom, basic human rights and rule of law are also guaranteed in China,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.
A German Foreign Ministry statement also welcomed the report, saying it confirms there is cause for the “greatest concern.”
Human Rights Watch said the report supports additional U.N. action to establish accountability for the abuses.
“Never has it been so important for the U.N. system to stand up to Beijing, and to stand with victims,” said John Fisher, the deputy director at the group.
There had been concerns the report would not be released.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she had to resist pressure both to publish and not publish. The report was released just minutes before Bachelet’s time as leader officially ended. She announced in June that the report would be released by the end of her four-year term on August 31.
Words in This Story
extrajudicial –n. without the approval of a court, outside of the legal system
impact –n. an important effect
indictment –n. an expression or statement of strong disapproval
arbitrary - adj. not planned or chosen for a particular reason
assessment –n. the act of making a judgement about something
patchwork –n. something that is made up of different things
accountability –n. a requirement to explain or take responsibility for an action or a policy