The UN has just released a long-awaited report on alleged violations of human rights in the Chinese region of Xinjiang (north-west), particularly against Muslim minorities. Mixing interviews carried out by him and direct or second-hand information, he evokes the possibility of “crimes against humanity” but does not take up the term “genocide” used by the United States.
Here are the five main allegations contained in this report, written by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
the Xinjiang has long been hit by bloody attacks. The rest of the country was also affected, with in particular a stabbing attack against travelers at Kunming station (southwest) in 2014. It killed around 30 people, injured more than 140 and shocked the country.
China accuses separatists and Islamists from the Uyghur ethnic minority. She has since launched a relentless campaign in the name of counter-terrorism. The UN report describes a “pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention” in Xinjiang “from at least 2017 to 2019” in secure facilities. China presents them as “vocational training centers” intended to “deradicalize” inhabitants by training them in a trade.
The UN report cites documents, presented as coming from the Chinese authorities and listing a series of reasons to justify internment for “extremism”: having too many children, wearing a veil or even having been convicted in the past.
“Credible” accusations of torture
Without confirming them, the report considers “credible” the accusations of torture and sexual violence in internment establishments in Xinjiang. People interviewed by the UN say they were immobilized and beaten. Some claim to have been raped or to have undergone “invasive gynecological examinations”. “It is not possible to draw broader conclusions about whether there have been broader patterns of sexual and gender-based violence” in vocational training centers, the report notes.
“The total denial of the (Chinese) government vis-à-vis all the allegations” however “reinforced the indignity and suffering” of those who testified, denounces the UN.
The UN interviewed women who said they “were forced to have an abortion or have an IUD inserted after reaching the number of children allowed” by the national birth control policy. “These first-hand accounts, although limited in number, are considered credible,” said the report again, noting the decline in the birth rate in Xinjiang since 2017.
China denies these accusations. She refutes any idea of ”forced sterilization” but concedes to apply in Xinjiang, as elsewhere in the country, her policy of limiting births, for a long time implemented with laxity in the region.
An “extremely broad” interpretation of the term “extremism”
The UN report finds that China has an “extremely broad” interpretation of the term “extremism”, which has the effect of criminalizing activities “related to the enjoyment of cultural and religious life”. Wearing a hijab, closing a restaurant during Ramadan or giving your children first names deemed too Muslim (“Mohammed”, “Islam”, “Jihad”, etc.) are considered signs of “religious extremism” which “can lead to serious consequences” for those affected, according to the report, which is based on articles from several media outlets.
OHCHR also notes “very concerning” press reports regarding the alleged destruction of mosques and cemeteries in Xinjiang. China says all “normal religious activities” in the region are protected by law. It says it has renovated some mosques with public funds and set up new official institutes to train Muslim clerics.
What about “forced” labor?
According to the report, some elements of employment programs in Xinjiang “appear” to have “elements of coercion” and require “clarifications” from Beijing. The OHCHR cites official Chinese documents mentioning the transfer of people from “vocational training centers” to factories. He thus wonders if such programs “can be considered as taking place entirely on a voluntary basis”.
However, the UN does not go so far as to take up the accusation of “forced labour”, formulated by the United States and the European Parliament on the basis of reports from Western organisations. China claims that “trainees” in “vocational training centers” can “freely choose their jobs” and that they “earn a salary and lead a prosperous life”.
The European Union “welcomed” the UN report on Thursday, joining the call of UN experts to “closely monitor” the situation. According to the EU, this report mentions “credible evidence” of torture and sexual violence against the Uyghur Muslim minority. For its part, Germany on Thursday called on Beijing “to immediately grant all residents of Xinjiang the full exercise of their human rights”. As for China, it firmly rejected the UN text, denouncing “a collection of disinformation” and “a political tool” written by “henchmen” of Westerners.