The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Assessment of Human Rights Concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
The outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, released her long-awaited 48-page report on the Uyghur Region on 31 August. She concluded that China has committed ‘serious human rights violations’ in the application of its counter-terrorism and counter extremism policies which she viewed as ‘problematic from the perspective of international human rights norms and standards’. These strategies, for example, contain ‘vague, broad and open-ended concepts that give wide discretion to officials to interpret and apply broad investigative, preventive and coercive powers, in a context of limited safeguards and scant independent oversight’, resulting in the large-scale arbitrary deprivation of liberty of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities.
The Chinese government claim that this had changed, but the Commissioner noted a parallel trend of an increased number and length of imprisonments occurring through criminal justice processes. She also raised concern about sexual and gender-based violence, including family planning and birth control policies; torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment; adverse conditions of detention; discriminatory restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as on religious identity and expression, and the rights to privacy and movement.
She concluded that the human rights situation in Xinjiang requires urgent attention by the government, the UN intergovernmental bodies and human rights system, and the international community. Her many recommendations included that the Chinese government release all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in Xinjiang; clarify the whereabouts of individuals subject to enquiries by their families; undertake a full review of the legal framework governing national security, counter-terrorism and minority rights to ensure their compliance with binding international human rights law; urgently repeal all discriminatory laws, policies and practices against Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities; and implement, as a priority, the Concluding Observations from the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, including the establishment of an independent oversight mechanism to ensure prompt, impartial and effective investigation into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Read the report at https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/countries/2022-08-31/22-08-31-final-assesment.pdf
Fight against Terrorism and Extremism in Xinjiang: Truth and Facts – China’s Response
China tried, but failed, to block Michelle Bachelet’s report on Xinjiang. It then issued a 122-page rebuttal, posted by the UN at the same time, claiming that its policies have achieved ‘remarkable outcomes’, that ‘everyone is equal before the law’ (as required in the Chinese Constitution) and that the accusation its policy is based on ethnic discrimination is ‘groundless’. It stated that all its practices are based on the rule of law and not on the suppression of ethnic minorities, that the vocational education and training camps are not concentration camps, that the rights of workers are protected and that there is no forced labour. It concluded that the US and the West are trying to use Xinjiang to ‘contain’ China. Read the report at https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/countries/2022-08-31/ANNEX_A.pdf
What Happens Next?
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) reconvened on 12 September but there was no follow-up action on China’s human rights violation on its already-packed agenda that included the crises in Ukraine and Ethiopia. In mid-September China lobbied the UNHCR, knowing it can count on the support of allies such as Cuba, Pakistan, Kuwait, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela. On 20 September, Amnesty called on the Council to take action, saying failure to do so would make members ‘complicit in the Chinese government’s cover-up’ and ‘would send a dangerous message to Chinese authorities that member states can be bullied into ignoring credible evidence of serious human rights violations and that powerful states are beyond effective scrutiny.’ Read the full statement at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/09/china-un-human-rights-council-must-ensure-accountability-for-ongoing-atrocities-in-xinjiang/.
A group of countries, including Britain, Canada, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, have now proposed a special debate, but this will not take place until the UNHCR’s next session in early 2023. China remains in a powerful situation as one of the five veto-holding members of the Security Council and the US and other countries need its support with respect to Iran and North Korea. We will continue to monitor this situation.