Members of the Uighur diaspora are urging the world to act after the United Nations said China may have committed crimes against humanity in the far western region of Xinjiang.
The much-anticipated report (PDF) was released by outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, late on Wednesday, just minutes before the end of her four-year term.
The 48-page document said it was “reasonable to conclude” that Chinese authorities had subjected Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang to “large-scale arbitrary detention” in facilities they described as vocational training centers (VETCs), at least during the period between 2017. and 2019.
She also said allegations of torture, ill-treatment and sexual abuse in vocational and training centers were “credible,” and said there were “serious indications” of forced labor and reproductive rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Uyghur rights activists have described the report as a “game changer”.
In a statement signed by more than 60 organizations, activists said the report by the world’s leading human rights body provided confirmation of abuses documented by human rights groups in Xinjiang years ago.
This UN report is very important. It paves the way for meaningful and tangible action by member states, UN bodies and the business community,” said World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa.
Accountability begins now.
The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim Turkic group that differ in religion, language, and culture from the predominantly Han ethnic group in China.
Uyghur rights groups have accused China of carrying out a “genocide” against society, by launching a campaign of mass arrests, killings, forced sterilizations, separating children from their families and destroying the group’s identity, including demolishing mosques and other holy sites.
The allegations were supported by the United States, Canada, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
But China denies these accusations.
In its response to Bachelet, Beijing claimed that the report was based on “misinformation and lies fabricated by anti-Chinese forces and presumption of intent”.
‘No more excuses’
China had previously described the Xinjiang camps as vocational training centers aimed at combating extremism and separatism in Xinjiang and pressured Bachelet to refrain from publishing the report.
The commissioner said last week that she had received a letter from China and several other countries, including North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba, requesting that the report not be published.
Roshan Abbas, executive director of the US-based Uyghur Campaign, said Bachelet’s office had waited too long to submit the report.
However, Abbas said the report once again provided evidence of “China’s atrocities” and left no room for the world to relinquish a commitment to action.
Alfidar Altibir, president of the American Uyghur Association, agreed.
“Now that the main UN human rights office has spoken, there are no longer excuses for failing to hold the Chinese government to account,” she said.
Alem Osman, president of the Uyghur Society of Victoria in Australia, described Bachelet’s report as an “acquittal”.
“The High Commissioner’s findings explain why the Chinese government fought at all costs with its allies to prevent the publication of its human rights report on Uyghurs, which illustrates the sweeping human rights atrocities in China,” he said.
“The UN Human Rights Council should use the report to launch a comprehensive investigation into the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and others – and hold those responsible to account.”