According to the UN report, “the described policies and practices in (the region) have crossed borders, dividing families and cutting off human contacts, while inflicting particular suffering on affected families from Uyghur, Kazakh and other predominantly Muslim minorities, exacerbated by patterns of intimidation and threats against members of the diaspora speaking publicly”.
Beijing’s response was released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) along with its own report, after China was given pre-access to the document for review and response.
Separately on Thursday, a foreign ministry spokesman said China was “rightfully rejecting” the report, which he called “invalid and illegal.” The spokesman also accused the Office of the High Commissioner of being “reduced to the role of a contract killer and accomplice of the US and the West in their efforts to control developing countries.”
The report focuses on what it describes as “arbitrary detention and related forms of abuse” in what Beijing calls “vocational education and training centers” between 2017 and 2019.
The report details the results of what the Office of the High Commissioner describes as a multi-year effort to analyze and evaluate public documents, open sources and research materials. It also includes information obtained from interviews with 40 people of Uyghur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz ethnicity. Twenty-six of those interviewed reported that they had either been detained or worked at various facilities in Xinjiang.
“The extent of the arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups … may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” the report says.
The UN report said that China’s “anti-terrorism legal system” is “deeply problematic in terms of international human rights norms and standards” and has “in practice led to large-scale arbitrary imprisonment” of Uyghurs and other Muslim communities.
Although Beijing did not allow the High Commissioner to conduct an on-site investigation, the report, in their own words, contained descriptions of those who attended the so-called vocational and educational training centers in Xinjiang.
“They didn’t tell me why I was there and how long I would be there. I was asked to confess to a crime, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to confess to,” said one person interviewed by the office. Report.
The report also says that almost all interviewees reported regularly taking injections, pills, or both, which made them sleepy, while some interviewees also spoke of “various forms of sexual abuse”, including some cases of rape, as well as various forms of sexual humiliation, including being forced to be naked, the report says.
Allegations of sexual and gender-based violence “appear to be credible,” the report says, but it is not possible “to draw broader conclusions” about the extent to which they were part of general patterns in institutions based on existing information, it says. .
“The government’s headline denial of all allegations, as well as its gendered and humiliating attacks on those who shared their experiences, added to the humiliation and suffering of the survivors,” the report says.
The report states that while it cannot confirm the number of detainees in the centres, it can reasonably be concluded from the available information that the number of persons in the centres, at least between 2017 and 2019, was “very significant, including significant portion of “Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
This detention system, the report notes, also arose against the backdrop of “wider discrimination” against members of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities based on “perceived security threats” posed by individual members of these groups.
He also addressed allegations of forced labor in the region, stating that recruitment schemes for alleged purposes of reducing poverty and preventing extremism “may include elements of coercion and discrimination based on religion and ethnicity.”
In its response on Wednesday, Beijing said the report “misrepresents” China’s laws and policies.
“All ethnic groups, including the Uighurs, are equal members of the Chinese nation,” China’s response said. “Xinjiang has taken action to combat terrorism and extremism in accordance with the law, effectively curbing the frequent manifestations of terrorist activities. At present, Xinjiang enjoys social stability, economic development, cultural prosperity and religious harmony. People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang live a happy life in peace and contentment.”
A separate statement from China’s mission to the UN in Geneva described the report as “a farce orchestrated by the US, Western countries and anti-Chinese forces” and added that “this assessment is a political tool” and “a politicized document that ignores the facts.”
Over the past four years, the international community within the UN has done little to address allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang.
Countries in its main human rights body have not agreed to any formal call for an investigation, while UN experts’ calls for China to allow rights monitoring have been met with a vehement denial of wrongdoing by Beijing and no invitation for free access to see for themselves. .
This deadlock at the UN increased the attention and importance of the High Commissioner’s report to those who sought to hold China to account within the international system.
The report will not remove political obstacles to advancing calls for a formal UN investigation, as China wields significant influence among UN member states. But human rights activists say it should be a wake-up call for international action.
Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, called the report “a game-changer for the international response to the Uyghur crisis.”
“Despite vigorous denials from the Chinese government, the UN has now officially acknowledged that heinous crimes are taking place,” the statement, signed by a group of 60 Uyghur organizations from 20 countries, said.
Richard Roth and Caitlin Hu of CNN in New York, Jorge Engels in London and Nectar Gan in Hong Kong contributed to this report.