The United Nations’ human rights body has accused the Chinese government of major abuses against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province, issuing a new report alleging arbitrary detentions, forced labor and even torture. Beijing immediately denied the charges.
The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published an “assessment of human rights concerns” in the Xinjiang region on Wednesday, outlining a long list of alleged violations against ethnic Uyghurs.
“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups… may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” the report said, adding that the PRC has also imposed “undue restrictions on religious identity and expression, as well as the rights to privacy and movement” in Xinjiang.
The OHCHR relied on a variety of sources in the report, including interviews with 26 former detainees at facilities in Xinjiang, the majority of whom “reported having been subjected to treatment that would amount to torture.” However, in addition to purported first-hand testimony, the assessment also cites the work of German anthropologist Adrian Zenz, whose research on the Uyghurs has come under fire for major statistical errors, mistranslations of Chinese source material and ideological bias against Beijing, among other shortcomings.
China – which insists its policies in Xinjiang are necessary to combat terrorism and religious extremism – wasted no time in responding to the report, issuing a 131-page reply rejecting the UN’s findings as “disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces.”
“This so-called ‘assessment’ runs counter to the mandate of the OHCHR, and ignores the human rights achievements made together by people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and the devastating damage caused by terrorism and extremism,” the statement said, adding that the UN report “distorts China’s laws and policies, wantonly smears and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
The UN report was issued just minutes before OHCHR head Michelle Bachelet ended her term at the agency. The rights commissioner visited China in May to look into alleged rights violations, though Bachelet noted at the time that her trip was “not an investigation” but instead “an opportunity to hold direct discussions” with Chinese officials.
The US government previously accused Beijing of “genocide” in Xinjiang, with the State Department claiming China was engaged in a “systematic attempt to destroy [the] Uyghurs.” As with Wednesday’s UN assessment, however, the PRC slammed the assertion as the “biggest lie of the century,” going on to question Washington’s own human rights record both at home and abroad.