UN rights office accuses China of serious violations in Xinjiang: Report

Published on Sep 01, 2022 02:59 PM IST

The stinging report concluded that the extensive arbitrary detentions of Uyghur in Xinjiang “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity”

UN human rights office said its report was “based on a rigorous review of documentary material”. (File image)
UN human rights office said its report was “based on a rigorous review of documentary material”. (File image)

The United Nations (UN) human rights office said China has committed “serious human rights violations” in Xinjiang in the name of countering terrorism and extremism and called on Beijing to speedily release “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty”.

A long-awaited report issued late on Wednesday in wake of a visit to China in May by the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said “allegations of patterns of torture, or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence”.

The stinging report concluded that the extensive arbitrary detentions of Uyghur in Xinjiang and members of other predominantly Muslim communities, in the context of deprivation of fundamental rights, “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity”.

Also Read: Uyghurs urge UN rights chief to ask hard questions in Xinjiang

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has faced criticism for the delay in issuing the report, which was made public on Bachelet’s final day of her four-year term in office.

A Chinese government response, published with the hard-hitting report, said authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) operate on the principle that everyone is equal before the law and the accusation that its policy is “‘based on discrimination’ is groundless”.

China contended its counter-terror and “de-radicalisation efforts” in Xinjiang were conducted according to the rule of law and didn’t add up to “suppression of ethnic minorities”.

However, the UN human rights office said its report was “based on a rigorous review of documentary material” and China’s obligations under international human rights law, including several conventions on issues such as racial discrimination and torture.

“The human rights situation in XUAR also requires urgent attention by the [Chinese] Government, the United Nations intergovernmental bodies and human rights system, as well as the international community more broadly,” the report said.

“Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR in the context of the Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-‘extremism’ strategies. The implementation of these strategies and associated policies in XUAR have led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights,” it said.

“These patterns of restrictions are characterised by a discriminatory component, as the underlying acts often directly or indirectly affect Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities,” it added.

China’s domestic anti-terror law system is “deeply problematic from the perspective of international human rights norms and standards” and contains “vague, broad and open-ended concepts” open to interpretation by officials to apply “broad investigative, preventive and coercive powers” with limited safeguards and scant independent oversight.

“This framework, which is vulnerable to discriminatory application, has in practice led to the large-scale arbitrary deprivation of liberty of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities in XUAR in so-called VETC [Vocational Education and Training Centres] and other facilities, at least between 2017 and 2019,” the report said.

“There appears to be a parallel trend of an increased number and length of imprisonments occurring through criminal justice processes, suggesting that the focus of deprivation of liberty detentions has shifted towards imprisonment, on purported grounds of counterterrorism and counter-‘extremism’,” it said.

People held in the vocational training centres have allegedly faced “torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention”, and there are credible allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, according to the report.

The broader discrimination faced by Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities include “far-reaching, arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms”, such as undue restrictions on religious identity and expression and the rights to privacy and movement.

“There are serious indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive and discriminatory enforcement of family planning and birth control policies,” the report said.

The UN human rights office recommended that the Chinese government should take “prompt steps to release all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in XUAR, whether in VETCs, prisons or other detention facilities”, and urgently clarify the “whereabouts of individuals whose families have been seeking information about their loved ones”, including by providing details of their exact location and establishing safe channels of communication and travel for families to reunite.

The Chinese government should carry out a full review of the legal framework governing national security, counter-terrorism and minority rights in Xinjiang to ensure their compliance with international human rights law and repeal all discriminatory laws, policies and practices against Uyghur and other Muslim minorities, the report said.

There should also be a prompt investigation into allegations of human rights violations in the vocational training centres and other detention facilities, including allegations of torture, sexual violence, ill-treatment, forced medical treatment, forced labour and reports of deaths in custody, the OHCHR recommended.

The UN human rights office further called on the Chinese government to provide “adequate remedy and reparation to victims of human rights violations” and clarify the reports of destruction of mosques, shrines and cemeteries and suspend all such activities in the meantime.

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