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Claims of torture of China Uyghurs are credible, UN says in report

  • China denies all allegations of human rights abuses

The UN has accused China of “serious human rights violations” in a long-awaited report into allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Its publication followed pressure from China for it not to be released – with Beijing calling it a “farce” arranged by the US and Western powers.

The report assesses claims of abuse against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, which China denies.

Investigators said they found credible evidence of torture against Uyghurs.

They noted that members of the Uyghur Muslim community had faced “systems of arbitrary detention” and some had been subjected to “patterns of ill-treatment”.

This included “incidents of sexual and gender-based violence”, as well as forced medical treatment and “discriminatory enforcement of family planning and birth control policies”.

It recommended that China immediately takes steps to release “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty”.

More than a million people are estimated to have been detained at camps in the Xinjiang region, in north-east China.

Several countries have previously described China’s actions in Xinjiang as a genocide.

But Beijing denies allegations of abuse and argued that the camps are a tool to fight terrorism.

The report was released on Ms Bachelet final day on the job after four year as the UN’s high commissioner for human rights.

Her term has been dominated by the accusations of abuse against the Uyghurs.

Ms Bachelet’s office indicated that an investigation into allegations of genocide in Xinjiang was under way over a year ago.

But publication was delayed several times, leading to accusations by some Western human rights groups that Beijing was urging her to bury damaging findings in the report.

And even in the final hours before the report was published, China has been putting pressure on Ms Bachelet not to release it.

In a news conference last Thursday, she admitted that she was under “tremendous pressure to publish or not to publish” the report.

John Fisher, the head of Human Rights Watch, hailed Ms Bachelet’s accomplishments in office, but warned that they risked “being overshadowed if you fail to publish your report on Xinjiang before leaving office”.

“Uyghurs and other victims have placed their trust in you to report on the extent of the abuses they face,” he said. “If you don’t stand up for victims, who will?”

And the UK’s ambassador to the human rights council, Rita French, said it is “essential for all of us that no state is free from objective scrutiny on its human rights record, and that no state can be allowed to stifle the high commissioner’s independent voice”.

Earlier this year, the BBC obtained leaked files which revealed an an organised system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture of Uyghur Muslims at a network of camps.

The Xinjiang Police Files, as they’re being called, were passed to the BBC and revealed a targeting of the community on orders leading all the way up to Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.

And in 2020, then UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused China of “gross and egregious” human rights abuses against its Muslim population after a video emerged appearing to show Uyghurs being blindfolded and led to trains.

The footage provoked international outcry, but Liu Xiaoming, then Chinese ambassador to the UK, insisted that there were “no such concentration camps in Xinjiang” while appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

What does China say?

China denies all allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

In response to the Xinjiang Police Files, China’s foreign ministry spokesman told the BBC that the documents were “the latest example of anti-China voices trying to smear China”. He said Xinjiang enjoyed stability and prosperity and residents were living happy, fulfilled lives.

China says the crackdown in Xinjiang is necessary to prevent terrorism and root out Islamist extremism and the camps are an effective tool for re-educating inmates in its fight against terrorism.

It insists that Uyghur militants are waging a violent campaign for an independent state by plotting bombings, sabotage and civic unrest, but it is accused of exaggerating the threat in order to justify repression of the Uyghurs.

China has dismissed claims it is trying to reduce the Uyghur population through mass sterilisations as “baseless”, and says allegations of forced labour are “completely fabricated”.

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