A document published despite pressure from Beijing. The United Nations unveiled, on Wednesday August 31, a report (in English) on human rights violations in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, in particular against the Uyghur minority.
This report from Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was produced from interviews and direct or second-hand information. The text evokes possible “crimes against humanity”, but does not use the term “genocide” used by the United States. Here are the main points.
Xinjiang has long been hit by bloody attacks. China accuses separatists and Islamists from the Uyghur minority and has launched a relentless campaign against terrorism. The UN report thus describes a “large-scale arbitrary detention pattern” in Xinjiang, “at least from 2017 to 2019”, in secure establishments. For its part, China presents them as “vocational training centers” destined for “de-radicalize” 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 that could justify internment for “extremism”, such as wear a veil or have been convicted in the past.
With the presumed closure of training centers, the UN also believes “that there has been a move towards formal incarceration” in order to continue to detain a number of people. This method has become the “primary means of large-scale imprisonment and deprivation of liberty”, reads the OHCHR report. China denies these accusations. The definitions of terrorism and extremism are “clearly specified” and “exclude any arbitrary application”she assures.
Accusations of torture deemed “credible”
The report estimates “credible” accusations of torture and sexual abuse in internment facilities in Xinjiang. People interviewed by the UN say they were immobilized and beaten. Some claim to have been raped or to have suffered “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 centres, the report notes. “The total denial of the government [chinois] vis-à-vis all the allegations” have however “reinforced indignity and suffering” people who testified, denounces the UN.
An “extremely broad” interpretation of the term “extremism”
The UN report also believes that China has an interpretation “extremely wide” of the term “extremism”which has the effect of criminalizing activities “linked to the enjoyment of a cultural and religious life”. Wearing a hijab or closing a restaurant during Ramadan are considered signs “religious extremism” who “may lead to serious consequences” for those affected, according to the report, which is based on articles from several media outlets.
OHCHR also takes note of press information “very worrying” regarding the alleged destruction of mosques and cemeteries in Xinjiang. China claims that 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 training institutes for Muslim clerics.
Women say they were “forced to have an abortion”
The UN interviewed women who said “having been forced to have an abortion or have an IUD inserted after reaching the authorized number of children” by the national birth control policy. “These first-hand accounts, although limited in number, are considered credible”again says the report, which notes the decline in the birth rate in Xinjiang since 2017.
China also denies these accusations. She refutes any idea of “forced sterilization” but concedes to apply in Xinjiang, as elsewhere in the country, its policy on the birth rate.
Questions about “forced labor”
According to the report, some elements of employment programs in Xinjiang “seem” present “elements of coercion” and require “clarifications” from Beijing. OHCHR cites official Chinese documents mentioning the transfer of people from “vocational training centers” to factories. He therefore wonders whether such programs “can be considered to be entirely on a voluntary basis”.
The UN does not, however, go so far as to take up the accusation of “forced labor”, formulated by the United States and the European Parliament on the basis of reports from Western organizations. China claims that the “trainees” of the “vocational training centers” can “freely choose their job” and that they “earn a salary and lead a prosperous life”.