UN report cites alleged ‘patterns of abuse’ in China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority

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A long-awaited report from the United Nations alleges that the Chinese government committed “serious human rights violations” while detaining Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups in western Xinjiang.

The 48-page report, which Western diplomats and UN officials said had been ready for months, was published just minutes before the end of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s four-year mandate.

Guard towers stand on the wall surrounding Urumqi Detention Center No. 3 in Dabancheng in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, file)

Based on interviews with former detainees in eight separate detention centers in the region, its authors note that “serious” human rights abuses were committed in Xinjiang under China’s counter-terrorism and extremism policies, which singled out Uyghurs and other Muslim communities, between 2017 and. 2019.

The report cites “patterns of torture” within what Beijing called professional centers, which were part of its famous plan to boost economic development in the region, and points to “credible” allegations of torture or ill-treatment, including cases of sexual violence. .

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Above all, perhaps the report warns that the “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of such groups in Xinjiang, through moves that strip them of “fundamental rights … may constitute international crimes, particularly crimes against humanity.”

The report’s authors say they cannot confirm estimates of the number of people held in concentration camps. But they add that based on the evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that the number held “at least between 2017 and 2019, was very significant, and includes a significant proportion of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities.”

The report calls for an urgent international response to allegations of torture and other rights abuses in Beijing’s campaign to root out terrorism.

A security man watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in Yarkent County in northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

A security man watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in Yarkent County in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
(AP Photo/By Han Guan)

Bachelet has ignored repeated Chinese calls for her office to withhold the report, which came after her own trip to Xinjiang in May and which Beijing says is part of a Western campaign to discredit China.

Hours before its release, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, criticized the report, stressing that Beijing remained “strongly opposed” to the report.

“We haven’t seen this report yet, but we are totally against such a report, and we don’t think it will do anyone any good,” Zhang told reporters outside the Security Council. “We have made clear to the High Commissioner on a number of other occasions that we strongly oppose such a report.”

He claimed that the “so-called Xinjiang issue” was a slander aimed at undermining China’s stability and development.

In the past five years, China’s campaign of mass internment in Xinjiang has engulfed an estimated one million Uyghurs and other ethnic groups into a network of prisons and camps, which Beijing has described as “training centers” but which former detainees have described as brutal detention centers.

Some countries, including the United States, have accused Beijing of committing genocide in Xinjiang.


Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, urged the 47-member Human Rights Council, whose next session will take place in September, to investigate the allegations and hold those responsible to account.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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