© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends her final news conference before the end of her term at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, August 25, 2022. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy/File Photo
(Reuters) – China’s “arbitrary and discriminatory imprisonment” of Uighurs and other Muslims in its Xinjiang region could amount to crimes against humanity, the outgoing UN human rights chief said in a long-awaited report on Wednesday.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who has faced criticism from some diplomats and rights groups for being too soft on China, released the report just minutes before the end of her four-year term. She visited China in May.
The UN human rights office said in its 48-page report that “serious human rights violations have been committed” in Xinjiang “in the context of the government’s implementation of strategies to combat terrorism and ‘extremism’.”
“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups… may constitute international crimes, especially crimes against humanity,” the UN office said.
It recommended that the Chinese government take immediate steps to release all those detained in training centers, prisons or detention facilities.
“There are credible indications of the violation of reproductive rights through the forced implementation of the family planning policy since 2017,” the office said.
It added that the lack of government data “makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the full extent of current implementation of these policies and associated violations of reproductive rights.”
Human rights groups accuse Beijing of mistreatment of the Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority numbering about 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the widespread use of forced labor in internment camps. The United States has accused China of genocide.
China has strongly denied the allegations.
China’s mission in Geneva described the report as a “farce” planned by the United States, Western countries and anti-China forces based on false information and presumption of guilt.
Speaking ahead of the report’s release, China’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Zhang Jun, said Beijing had repeatedly expressed opposition to it. He said the UN human rights chief should not interfere in China’s internal affairs.
“We all know, so well, that the so-called Xinjiang issue is a completely fabricated lie for political motives, and its purpose is definitely to undermine China’s stability and obstruct China’s development,” Zhang told reporters on Wednesday.
“We don’t think it will do anyone any good, it simply undermines the cooperation between the United Nations and the member state,” he said.
Dilxat Raxit of the World Uyghur Congress, an overseas-based group, said the report confirmed “solid evidence of atrocities” against Uyghurs, but wished it had gone further.
“I regret that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has not characterized these extreme crimes in China as genocide,” he told Reuters in an email.
Reuters reported last month that China had asked Bachelet to bury the report, according to a Chinese letter confirmed by diplomats.
Bachelet confirmed last week that she had received a letter she said had been signed by about 40 other states, adding that her office would not respond to such pressure.
Bachelet, 70, plans to return to Chile to retire. Many candidates have applied for the job, but Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has not named a successor, whose selection must then be approved by the General Assembly in New York.
“Frankly, releasing the report as she walks out the door minimizes the report,” Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch told Reuters before it was released. “By issuing it and releasing it, she gives up, doesn’t do anything with it, (she) just throws it in the bin and leaves the office.”
However, Human Rights Watch described the report as groundbreaking.
“Victims and their families long vilified by the Chinese government have finally seen their persecution acknowledged, and can now call on the UN and its member states to take action to hold those responsible accountable,” said John Fisher, Deputy Director of Global Advocacy .