China responsible for serious human rights violations in Xinjiang, says UN report

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) August 30 issued an assessment of human rights concerns in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. 

The report, in the wake of the visit by UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet in May, said that “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.”

In a strongly-worded assessment at the end of the report, OHCHR said that the extent of arbitrary detentions against Uyghur and others, in context of “restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights, enjoyed individually and collectively, may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

The UN rights office said that the report was “based on a rigorous review of documentary material currently available to the Office, with its credibility assessed in accordance with standard human rights methodology.

“Particular attention was given to the Government’s own laws, policies, data and statements. The Office also requested information and engaged in dialogue and technical exchanges with China throughout the process.”

Published on Bachelet’s final day of her four-year term in office, the report said that the violations have taken place in the context of the Chinese Government’s assertion that it is targeting terrorists among the Uyghur minority with a counter-extremism strategy that involves the use of so-called Vocational Educational and Training Centres (VETCs), or re-education camps.

The systems of arbitrary detention and related patterns of abuse since 2017, said OHCHR, “come against the backdrop of broader discrimination” against Uyghur and other minorities.

Violations of international law

“This has included far-reaching, arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms, in violation of international laws and standards”, including restrictions on religious freedom and the rights to privacy and movement.

Furthermore, the report said that Chinese Government policies in the region have “transcended borders”, separating families, “severing” contacts, producing “patterns of intimidations and threats” against the wider Uyghur diaspora who have spoken out about conditions at home.

OHCHR said that the Chinese Government “holds the primary duty to ensure that all laws and policies are brought into compliance with international human rights law and to promptly investigate any allegations of human rights violations, to ensure accountability for perpetrators, and to provide redress to victims.”

The assessment was initiated following serious allegations of human rights violations against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities brought to the attention of the UN Human Rights Office and UN human rights mechanisms since late 2017, particularly in the context of the Chinese Government’s policies and measures to combat terrorism and “extremism”.

Photo credit: iStock/ Gujiang xie. October 31,1996, Hotan, Xinjiang, China. Local girls in ethnic costumes.

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