China: Investigation and prosecutions must follow long-delayed UN report on Xinjiang

The report was released almost a year after High Commissioner Bachelet informed the UN Human Rights Council that it was being “finalised”. © AFP via Getty Images

Inexcusable delay in releasing this report ‘casts a stain’ on UN Office of High Commission for Human Rights

UN must set up independent international mechanism to investigate crimes under international law

This document lays bare the scale and severity of human rights violations in Xinjiang.’ - Agnès Callamard

Responding to the long-awaited release of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on serious human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said:

“This 46-page document lays bare the scale and severity of the human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang – which Amnesty International previously concluded amounted to crimes against humanity. There can be little doubt why the Chinese government fought so hard to pressure the UN to conceal it.

“The inexcusable delay in releasing this report casts a stain on the OHCHR’s record, but this should not deflect from its significance. It mirrors reporting by Amnesty and other credible organisations documenting patterns of torture or ill-treatment as well as incidents of sexual and gender-based violence. Crucially, it finds that the ‘extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups … may constitute ... crimes against humanity.’

 “Now that the OHCHR has finally made its findings public, it is time for the UN Human Rights Council to set up an independent international mechanism to investigate these crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Xinjiang. 

“All member states have a moral obligation to support proposals to discuss the report and establish an investigatory mechanism, or else be left on the wrong side of history. There must be accountability for the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity, including through the identification and eventual prosecution of those individuals suspected of responsibility. 

“Beijing’s repeated denial of the human rights crisis in Xinjiang rings ever-more hollow with this further recognition of the evidence of ongoing crimes against humanity and other human rights violation in the region.  

“The Chinese authorities must immediately release all individuals arbitrarily detained in camps or prisons, end the persecution of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, and immediately allow true unfettered access to independent human rights monitors and investigators.”

UN report release delayed for a year

The OHCHR’s assessment on Xinjiang was released only today, almost a year after High Commissioner Bachelet informed the UN Human Rights Council in September 2021, that it was being “finalised”.

In May 2022, Bachelet made an official visit to China, including Xinjiang, but she failed to acknowledge the serious human rights violations in the country.

Her statement at the end of her visit undermined efforts to advance accountability in the region, suggesting she had been manipulated by a predictable propaganda exercise orchestrated by the Chinese government. Bachelet admitted afterwards that she was not able to speak to any detained Uyghurs or their families while in Xinjiang and was accompanied by state officials at all times in the region.

In a draft letter to Bachelet leaked by the media last month, the Chinese authorities reportedly urged the High Commissioner “not to publish” her office’s assessment of Xinjiang.

Bachelet’s mandate as High Commissioner ended yesterday,31 August 2022, after she decided not to seek a second term.

Since 2017, there has been extensive documentation of China’s crackdown against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, carried out under the guise of fighting terrorism. In 2021, a comprehensive report by Amnesty demonstrated that the systematic state-organised mass imprisonment, torture and persecution perpetrated by Chinese authorities amounted to crimes against humanity. 

 Amnesty’s Free Xinjiang Detainees campaign has, to date, profiled 120 individuals who are among the perhaps one million or more people in arbitrary detention in internment camps and prisons in Xinjiang. 

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