China: International response to crimes against humanity in Xinjiang is ‘woefully inadequate’

© Molly Crabapple

Today marks one year since damning UN report on mass human rights abuses in region

Urgent need for an independent international mechanism to investigate crimes

‘Families of those who have been arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared or mistreated want and deserve answers and accountability' - Sarah Brooks  

The one-year anniversary of a damning United Nations report on Xinjiang is a stark reminder of the need to hold China to account for crimes against humanity following a “woefully inadequate” response by the international community, Amnesty International said today (31 August).

On 31 August 2022, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released its long-awaited assessment on the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, finding that violations by the Chinese government against Uyghurs and other predominantly-Muslim minorities - including torture and mass imprisonment in internment camps - “may constitute… crimes against humanity.”

The UN’s damning assessment on Xinjiang was released on the final day of previous High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s term in office after being severely delayed. In a draft letter to Bachelet leaked by the media, the Chinese authorities had reportedly urged the High Commissioner “not to publish” her the report. A few months later, Human Rights Council member states rejected by a narrow margin a resolution that would have called for a debate on the report - an initiative that already fell short of calls from 50 of the council’s own appointed experts for a special session

Last December, Bachelet’s successor, Volker Turk, committed to “personally engage with the [Chinese] authorities” about the grave human rights violations highlighted in the report. However, his public follow-up is yet to emphasise clearly the urgent need for accountability for these alarming violations.  

The UN report found that 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”, adding that “the conditions remain in place for serious violations to continue and recur”.

The anniversary of the UN report comes in the same week President Xi Jinping made a surprise visit to the Xinjiang city of Urumqi, in which he called on officials to strengthen curbs on “illegal religious activities”. The Chinese authorities have repeatedly dismissed accusations of human rights violations in the region.

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s Deputy China Director, said:

The international community - including important components of the UN itself - has shied away from the kind of resolute steps needed to advance justice, truth and reparation for victims.

"We need national and international officials, including human rights officials such as the High Commissioner, to use all levers at their disposal - both public and private - to seek meaningful change in China’s repressive policies.

“The need for states to establish an independent international mechanism through the Human Rights Council to investigate crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Xinjiang is as urgent as ever.

“Families of those who have been arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared or mistreated want and deserve answers and accountability.”

Crimes against humanity

Since 2017, China’s crackdown against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly-Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang - systemic repression carried out under the guise of fighting terrorism - has been extensively documented. In 2021, Amnesty published a 160-page report detailing the systematic state-organised mass imprisonment, torture and persecution perpetrated by the Chinese authorities in the region, saying it amounted to crimes against humanity. Amnesty’s Free Xinjiang Detainees campaign has, to date, profiled 126 individuals who are among the perhaps one million or more people who have been held in arbitrary detention in internment camps and prisons in Xinjiang since 2017.

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