China rejects UN report on Uighur rights abuses in Xinjiang

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China has denounced a UN report that says the government’s arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity.

Human rights groups and the Japanese government welcomed the delayed report, which had become caught up in a tug-of-war between China and others, who were critical of the hold-up and lobbying for its release.

The assessment released late on Wednesday by the UN human rights office in Geneva concluded that China has committed serious human rights violations under its anti-terrorism and anti-extremism policies and called for “urgent attention” from the UN, the world community and Beijing itself to address them.

It adds the weight of the UN to the conclusions, although China showed no sign of backing off its blanket denials and portraying the criticism as a politicised western smear campaign.

In a sternly worded protest that the UN posted with its report, Beijing’s diplomatic mission in Geneva said it firmly opposed the release of the UN assessment, which it said ignores human rights achievements in Xinjiang and the damage caused by terrorism and extremism to the population.

“Based on the disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces and out of presumption of guilt, the so-called ‘assessment’ distorts China’s laws, wantonly smears and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs,” the protest said.

Japan was one of the first foreign governments to comment on the report. Its top government spokesperson urged China to improve transparency and human rights conditions in Xinjiang.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on the UN and governments to set up an independent investigation into the human rights abuses.

“Never has it been so important for the UN system to stand up to Beijing, and to stand with victims,” said John Fisher, deputy director of global advocacy for Human Rights Watch.

The UN report made no mention of genocide, which some countries, including the US, have accused China of committing in Xinjiang.

The report was drawn in part from interviews with former detainees and others familiar with conditions at eight detention centres.

“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uighur and other predominantly Muslim groups… in (the) context of restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights… may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” the report said.

The rights office said it could not confirm estimates that a million or more people were detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, but added it was “reasonable to conclude that a pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention occurred” at least between 2017 and 2019.

Beijing has closed many of the camps, which it called vocational training and education centres, but hundreds of thousands of people continue to languish in prison, many on vague, secret charges.

The UN assessment said that reports of sharp increases in arrests and lengthy prison sentences in the region strongly suggested a shift toward formal incarceration instead of the use of the camps.

The report called on China to release all individuals arbitrarily detained and to clarify the whereabouts of those who have disappeared and whose families are seeking information.

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