UN experts urge action on findings of Uyghur abuse in China

General

A collection of human rights officials on Wednesday said the international community must not ignore the systematic abuses allegedly perpetrated against Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and repeated a call for the U.N. Human Rights Council to review the charges.

The more than 40 experts, comprising U.N. special rapporteurs, independent experts and members of working groups under the U.N. Human Rights Council, issued their call in response to a damning report issued on Aug. 31 by former U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, finding that China’s repression of the predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

Bachelet, who traveled to Xinjiang in May, issued the overdue report on rights abuses in the region on the day she concluded her four-year mandate as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The report states that “serious human rights violations” have been committed in Xinjiang in the context of the Chinese government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-“extremism” policies and practices.

China’s Permanent Mission to the U.N. Office at Geneva dismissed the report, saying it ignored the human rights achievements by people from all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and the damage caused by terrorism and extremism to the human rights of all ethnic groups there.

But the U.N. experts supported the report’s conclusions on abuses in Xinjiang, highlighting the finding that “the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities … may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” according to a news release issued by U.N. Human Rights Special Procedures in Geneva.

The experts also drew attention to the report’s finding of “credible allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, as well as incidents of sexual and gender-based violence including invasive gynecological exams, and indications of coercive enforcement of family planning and birth control policies,” the news release said.

The experts, who have mandates to report and advise on human rights issues, also repeated a call from June 2020 for the Human Rights Council to convene a special session on China to address allegations of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and restrictions on movement, freedom of religion and freedom of expression on the premise of national security. 

The Human Rights Council should consider establishing a panel of experts to closely monitor, analyze and report annually on the human rights situation in China, the group of U.N. experts said. They also recommended that the U.N. General Assembly or secretary-general consider the creation of a special envoy.

U.N. member states, U.N. agencies and businesses should demand that China fulfills its human rights obligations, the experts said.

Since 2017, Chinese authorities have ramped up their repression of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities, arbitrarily detaining up to 1.8 million people in internment camps and committing severe human rights abuses.

Credible reports by rights groups and the media documenting the widespread abuse and repression have prompted the United States and some parliaments of Western countries to declare that the Chinese government’s action amount to a genocide and crimes against humanity.

'We have to name it'

When asked for comment on the experts’ remarks, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, told RFA that he had nothing to add to what he said about Bachelet’s report during a regular press briefing on Sept. 1.

At the news conference, Dujarric said Guterres had read the report and that it confirmed what the secretary-general’s position that the Uyghur community in Xinjiang must be respected without discrimination.  

“The secretary-general very much hopes that the government of China will take on board the recommendations put forward in the assessment by the high commissioner for human rights,” he said at the time.

Nury Turkel, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan and independent federal government body, said he was “thankful” that the U.N. experts are acknowledging an obligation to address the Uyghur issue. 

“This comes years too late, but is a good step forward,” he told RFA. “No member state can say that they didn’t know or can escape the brutal reality of active genocide in China.”

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, called the U.N. experts’ calls “highly timely as the U.N. has no excuse not to act in light of the release of the Uyghur report by the U.N Human Rights High Commissioner.” 

Alexis Brunnelle-Duceppe, a member of Canada's Parliament, said he wanted the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a stand for human rights and condemn China for its maltreatment of Uyghurs.

“What I'm asking from this government, the Canadian government, is to … ask the U.N. to send a special envoy to Xinjiang and to stop being weak in front of China when it comes to crimes against humanity, when it comes to genocide,” he told RFA.

Though Canada’s House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in February 2021 to declare China’s repression of the Uyghurs a genocide, the country’s government has not issued that determination.

“This is a problem. If you want to solve a problem, you have to name it, and we’re in front of a genocide right now. We have to name it,” he said.

Translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.