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Torture & abuse: China's treatment of Uyghur Muslim possible crimes against humanity - UN

9/2/2022 12:40 PM
Supporters of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement rally in front of the White House to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the July 5th Urumqi Massacre, July 5, 2022
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The UN released a damming report into serious human rights abuses in China's Xinjiang region, saying allegations of torture and detention of the Uyghur Muslim minority were credible and citing possible crimes against humanity.

The long-awaited report detailed a string of rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities and urged the world to pay "urgent attention" to the human rights violations in the region.

"The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups... may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity," the report said.

Of major concern was the treatment of persons detained in China's so-called "Vocational Education and Training Centres” (VETCs).

"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 report said.

The report mentioned the targeting of underlying Muslim behaviour. The Chinese government's definition of 'extremism' encompassed a broad range of acts that were manifestations of "Islamic religious beliefs and/or legitimate expression of opinion," it said.

Wearing hijabs and 'abnormal' beards, following halal strictly, closing restaurants during Ramadan, participating in cross-county religious activities, teaching and preaching online, and giving a child a Muslim name were all considered 'extreme.'

"Such exceptionally broad interpretations of “extremism”, often explicitly targeting standard tenets of Islamic religion and practice, in effect renders virtually all such conduct in potential breach of the regulation of religion and of broader Government policies within the ambit of “counter-extremism” policies," said the report.

Alongside the restrictions on expressions of Muslim religious practice, there were reports of the destruction of religious sites, such as mosques and cemeteries.

The 45-page report urged Beijing to immediately release “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty”, provide information about the whereabouts of people missing to their families and repeal all discriminatory laws.

Detaining over a million Uyghurs

The assessment brings the UN seal to many allegations about China's treatment of people in Xinjiang that have long been made by rights groups, Western nations and the Uyghur community in exile

But the report has been criticised by campaigners for failing to describe China’s actions as genocide

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs said it welcomed the report's release but was disappointed in its shortcomings, "which makes no mention of genocide"

Last year, the People’s Uyghur Tribunal in London concluded that the Chinese government was committing genocide against Uyghurs. The US, UK, Canada and France have also said it is genocide.

China has been accused for years of detaining more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims in the region.

"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 UN report said.

The number of people detained in VETCs, at least between 2017 and 2019, "was very significant, comprising a substantial proportion of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minority populations."

Campaigners have accused China of practising sterilisation of women. The report said there were "credible indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive enforcement of family planning policies."

The report also mentioned forced or compulsory labour camps, family separations and enforced disappearance.

'Hold those responsible to account'

Human Rights Watch's China director Sophie Richardson said the "damning" findings of sweeping rights abuses showed why Beijing "fought tooth and nail" to prevent its publication.

The UN Human Rights Council should now investigate China's alleged crimes against humanity "and hold those responsible to account," she said.

Amnesty International's secretary general Agnes Callamard said the document "lays bare the scale and severity of the human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang."

She echoed the call for criminal accountability and said China "must immediately release all individuals" arbitrarily detained in camps, "end the persecution" of minorities and allow investigators in unfettered.

"This is a game-changer for the international response to the Uyghur crisis," said Uyghur Human Rights Project executive director Omer Kanat.

"Despite the Chinese government's strenuous denials, the UN has now officially recognised that horrific crimes are occurring."

World Uyghur Congress president Dolkun Isa said the report paved the way for "meaningful and tangible action" by countries, businesses and the UN, adding: "Accountability starts now."

China hit out at the report and accused the United Nations of becoming a "thug and accomplice of the US and the West."

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