Amnesty International said today that the anniversary of a devastating UN report on Xinjiang serves as a sobering reminder of the need to hold China accountable for crimes against humanity in the face of a “woefully inadequate” reaction from the international community.
Human rights 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,” according to a report released by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on August 31, 2022.
According to Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for China, Sarah Brooks, “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” despite the report’s findings of serious violations of international law in China.
On the last day of former High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s mandate, the OHCHR issued its evaluation of the situation in Xinjiang. A year after High Commissioner Bachelet said it was being “finalized,” its release was still months away. Chinese officials allegedly asked High Commissioner Bachelet to “not to publish” her office’s report on the situation in Xinjiang, according to a draft letter to Bachelet that was leaked to the media.
Despite requests for a special session on the subject from fifty of the Council’s own designated experts (the Special Procedures), in October 2022, member states of the Human Rights Council narrowly rejected a motion that would have called for a discussion on the report.
Upon taking office in December 2022, Volker Turk vowed to “personally engage with (Chinese) authorities” about the serious human rights breaches detailed in the report, which had been compiled by the previous administration of Bachelet. Despite announcing in March 2023 that his office had opened “channels of communication” with Beijing and again in June 2023 that his office was attempting to seek “further engagement,” he has yet to make it abundantly clear that accountability for these alarming violations is a top priority.
It is imperative that “national and international officials, including human rights officials such as the High Commissioner, use all levers at their disposal, both public and private, to seek meaningful change in China’s repressive policies,” as stated by Brooks.
Reporting from Amnesty International and other reputable organizations, including sexual and gender-based abuse, acts of torture, and other ill-treatment are consistent with the OHCHR’s conclusion.
According to a United Nations investigation, “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.” A timely and successful effort is all the more urgent given that “the conditions remain in place for serious violations to continue and recur,” as stated in the report.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the report, and it also coincides with President Xi Jinping’s unexpected trip to the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi, where he urged local authorities to crack down even more on “illegal religious activities.” The Chinese government has frequently denied any wrongdoing in the area of human rights.
For the international community, the OHCHR report’s first anniversary should serve as a rallying cry. An impartial international framework to examine breaches of international law and other major human rights abuses in Xinjiang must be established by the nations via the Human Rights Council immediately. “Delays and compromises are not acceptable when families of those who have been arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, or mistreated are demanding answers and accountability,” Brooks added.
China has been cracking down on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang on the pretext of battling terrorism, and this crackdown has been well documented since 2017. The systematic mass detention, torture, and persecution performed by Chinese officials in 2021 were shown to be crimes against humanity in a thorough study by Amnesty International.
About a million or more people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang’s internment camps and jails since 2017, and Amnesty International’s Free Xinjiang Detainees campaign has featured 126 of them so far.