China's angry defense of its "serious human rights violations" in Xinjiang | International (2022)

The Chinese government reacted furiously to the release of a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 31 August, calling it "wholly illegal and invalid". Michelle Bachelet released the 46-page report on her last day in office, in fact just 13 minutes before she stepped down from her four-year tenure. The report is titled "OHCHR Assessment of Human Rights Concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China".

Bachelet had secretly given China preview of the report before it was published, and on the very day it was released, parts of the UN document were allegedly being rewritten to accommodate Chinese requests. Thanks to this preview, China immediately published its own 131-page refutation. It claimed: "This so-called 'assessment' runs counter to the mandate" of Bachelet's office and "distorts China's laws and policies, wantonly smears and slanders China, and interferes in China's internal affairs".

An angry Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the UN report was "planned and manufactured first-hand by the US and some Western forces" and was a "hodgepodge of misinformation" and "a political tool". Bachelet conducted a highly contrived visit to Xinjiang in May, where she visited a decommissioned "training center" that now serves as a school and talked with a former vice-president of the center, but was not permitted to visit anything personally. Bachelet also visited Kasgar Prison, though she said most inmates there were incarcerated for reasons other than terrorism.

The Xinjiang government "assured" Bachelet that training centers were "dismantled", though she acknowledged that she was "unable to assess full scale" of the training centers. Section VIII of the report provided the OHCHR's overall assessment and recommendations. It unequivocally stated: "Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] in the context of the government's application of counterterrorism and counter-'extremism' strategies. The implementation of these strategies, and associated policies in XUAR, has led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights."

It added that China's "deeply problematic" application of domestic antiterrorism laws "has in practice led to the large-scale arbitrary deprivation of liberty of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities in XUAR in so-called VETC [vocational education and training centers] and other facilities, at least between 2017 and 2019. Even if the VETC system has since been reduced in scope or wound up, as the government has claimed, the laws and policies that underpin it remain in place." In detention facilities, "Allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence."

Indeed, Uyghurs experienced constant hunger and deprivation in these camps. Families were separated and left uninformed of the whereabouts of loved ones, including parents who were incarcerated and children sent to orphanages. There were sickening allegations of guards forcing inmates to perform oral sex, or forms of sexual humiliation such as forced nudity or group gynecological examinations. Inmates were compelled to take pills or have injections, which typically made them drowsy. They also endured extremely invasive electronic surveillance. Furthermore, the OHCHR report found that China's policy has put "undue restrictions on religious identity and expression, as well as the rights to privacy and movement". Key crimes of which China stands accused are mass arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, forced labor, persecution based on ethnicity and religion, coercive birth control, and pervasive surveillance and harassment.

Indeed, the extent of China's "arbitrary and discriminatory detention" policy "may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity". Indeed, Xinjiang's human rights situation requires "urgent attention by the government, the United Nations intergovernmental bodies and human rights system, as well as the international community more broadly". The phrasing "may constitute international crimes" is actually the strongest language that the UN is permitted to use until the International Criminal Court makes a ruling that widespread human rights abuses, arbitrary detention and torture have indeed occurred.

Only that particular court can declare that crimes against humanity have been committed. However, the International Criminal Court will not be given the chance. This is because China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, and therefore the court does not have anyjurisdiction over China's alleged crimes. The report's strongest sections are on internment and religious freedom, although the document has shortcomings. These include comparatively short and weak sections on forced labor and birth prevention.

Quoting a diplomatic source, Adrian Zenz, a respected German academic known for his research into Chinese abuses against Uyghurs, said that the section on forced sterilization was watered down during the final hours, in response to Chinese protests, which does raise important questions about the report's independence. Zenz commented: "This is the clearest evidence to date that political considerations interfered in the presentation of the evidence. Birth prevention is indeed one of the weakest sections in the report and, when reading it, I was suspecting whether there mayhave been interference. Beijing is especially sensitive about anything that could point to genocide allegations, which would explain that."

In the report's birth prevention section, it failed to include the Xinjiang's government's explicit aim of limiting Uyghur births. "That is the most damning evidence, together with statements on ending dominance of Uyghur population and optimizing ethnic ratios,"Zenz concluded. The report only admitted that "coercive measures are likely to have accompanied the strict enforcement of family planning policies". In fact, the Uyghur birth rate slumped 48.7% in the 2017-19 period, reaching a figure that was 22% below that of China's average. The report relies mostly on China's own governmental records and documents to prove the human rights violations, as well as some 40 interviews with Uyghur victims. Zenz offered his personal reaction. "The report is very conservative in its use of data and the conclusions drawn from it, which, together with using Beijing's own sources, will make it very hard for China to counter or refute it."

The OHCHR took steps to authenticate the validity of all internal documents, lending credence to its conclusions. Examples it referred to include the so-called Xinjiang Papers, China Cables, Karakax List, Urumqi police database and Xinjiang Police Files. Its methodical and conservative methodology adds to the report's value and authenticity. Zenz further pointed out: "Bachelet's visit doesn't seem to have impacted the report, positively or negatively. There is no indication that her own very problematic assessment or Chinese state propaganda influenced the report or its conclusions. Delaying reportpublication over her visit was a waste." The German academic noted that Beijing's responses are mostly "appropriately woven into the report (often in footnotes) and, importantly, the report doesn't indiscriminately repeat Beijing's accusations and whitewashing".

"Overall," Zenz concluded, "the report is not perfect and a lot of available supporting evidence was not used. But it will provide a strong and authoritative basis going forward from here for holding Beijing accountable." Zenz's sentiments were shared by Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, Daria Impiombato and Nathan Ruser of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). They said in an assessment:"While the report was long overdue and lacked strength in certain areas, its release following a four-year investigation is a positive development celebrated by victims of Xinjiang's human rights crisis, as well as scholars, journalists and advocates around theworld who have for years sought to pour sunlight on the issue." ASPI found that Bachelet's report, despite its narrow scope of research, "strongly verifies the nature of human rights abuses in Xinjiang in relation to arbitrary detention since the 2017 crackdown". The authors added, "Ultimately, the value of an independent report by the most senior international human rights office lies in having the UN's imprimatur on the now unassailable conclusions of industrial-scale human rights abuses, leaving no room for censorship and denial, and no excuses for a lack of concrete action."

Bachelet admitted that "tremendous pressure" had been placed on her by all sides as to whether her report should be published. Certainly, Beijing pressurized her to bury it. Nonetheless, questions need to be asked as to why the report was delayed, and why didthe UN wait so long before commissioning an investigation? China sometimes does respond to international pressure, so a much earlier release of this UN report may have helped some incarcerated victims. Going forward, it may also help prevent some countries deporting Uyghurs back to China. Human Rights Watch is demanding that this report be formally and urgently presented to the UN Human Rights Council, while the International Labor Organization might continue its quest to launch a technical advisory mission to explore this issue of forced labor in China.

ASPI pointed out: "Bachelet's report should serve as a stern reminder for businesses to improve the transparency and accountability of their own supply chains, and for governments to strengthen their regulatory environments to prevent copouts andworkarounds." Countries like Canada, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, UK and USA had already branded Chinese policy in Xinjiang as "genocide", though others such as Australia have stopped slightly short of that. Germany has been soft on China, but there are signs that the tolerance of Angela Merkel's era is ending. Patricia Flor, Germany's Ambassador to Beijing, issued a strongly worded public statement. She noted that the report "clearly states that the extent of detention may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.

This is not a domestic issue. Fighting terrorism cannot excuse human rights violations." New Zealand is another country that can be wishy-washy when it comes to confronting China, but Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta tweeted, "We are particularly concernedabout arbitrary detention, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, forced medical treatment, widespread surveillance, violations of reproductive rights, restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, and forced labor" in Xinjiang. Yet the National Party opposition in New Zealand undid all this when foreign affairs shadow minister Gerry Brownlee repeated all China's talking points. In his unwelcome apology for Beijing's pogrom, he said people had been "caught up" in China's counterterrorism measures and that the country's counterterror laws were no different toNew Zealand's.

In response, Anne-Marie Brady, a well-known academic at Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand who speaks out against Chinese abuses, tweeted, "Let's play spot-the-useful-idiot worldwide." Nor has the Muslim world's response been any better. It can best be described as tepid. For example, in December 2018 the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) mentioned "disturbing reports on the treatment of Uighur Muslims, and expressed hope that China, which has excellent bilateral relations with most OIC countries as well as the OIC, would address the legitimate concerns of Muslims around the world".

Egypt and Saudi Arabia went further by actively shielding China from criticism, while Indonesia's vice president said "we don't want to intervene in the domestic affairs of another country". Or what about Imran Khan's former government in Pakistan, whoclaimed the Xinjiang situation had been distorted by a "faction of foreign media [who] are trying to sensationalize the matter by spreading false information"? The eventual release of Bachelet's report makes Beijing's diplomatic situation even moredifficult, particularly in its relations with the West. However, the key question is how many non-aligned nations will join the West's principled stance on this issue. Despite China's protestations of innocence and that the investigation was all a foreign plot - and indeed because of a refusal to own up to its terrible atrocities at home - the world must continue to exert incessant pressure on the heartless communist leadership in Beijing. (ANI)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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