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UN Report on Xinjiang: The Bitter Winter Review

United Nations finally admits crimes against humanity are taking place against Uyghur and other Turkic minorities.

By Ruth Ingram

September 5, 2022

Uyghur protests against crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. Courtesy of the World Uyghur Congress.

The UN’s damning account of human rights abuses in Xinjiang has finally seen the light of day with minutes to go before the departure of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet from the international body.

The report, a year in the making, lobbied long and hard by Beijing never to be published, came through at the eleventh hour on August 31st with muted but clear accusations of “crimes against humanity” levelled against the Chinese State.

The 48-page document with 300 footnotes outlining a catalogue of human rights abuses, including torture, sexual violence, mass illegal detentions and a draconian sterilization drive, was met with a 131-page ferocious rebuttal from Beijing.

Lashing out at the findings, China accused the writers and researchers of using “absurd logic” to discredit the CCP and destabilize the country. Academic reports were slammed as “despicable” “hype,” “slander,” and full of “sensational lies and fallacies” designed to contain China.

Camp survivors and their testimonies were vilified, and graduates from the so-called “Vocational Training Camps” were quoted lavishing praise on the government for their transformation.

Beijing’s refutation of the long-awaited investigation paints a rosy world of pomegranate seed harmony, the absolute rule of law and international endorsement, even admiration for its counter terrorism measures.

Throughout the report Beijing’s consistent violations of every UN treaty to which it is a signatory were shown to clearly happen at every turn. Treaties connected with racial and female discrimination, religious belief and practice, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, rights of children, cultural and social freedoms, the rights of the disabled and those fighting for civil and political expression were all infringed under the all-encompassing and unaccountable banner of eliminating extremism and terrorism.

The report clearly shows that the events unfolding particularly between 2016–2022 have been symptoms of an open season against the Turkic peoples of Xinjiang province, and particularly the Uyghurs.

Vague laws, hastily compiled in the name of China’s so-called “War on Terror,” were found to criminalize ideas, thoughts, certain activities, clothing, and even symbols, unspecified “content” and “signs” rendering ordinary Uyghurs subject to mass roundups with no recourse to legal protection or redress. Sometimes merely quotas to fulfil were enough to tear family members and children from each other for indeterminate lengths of time.

Uyghur protests in Paris. Courtesy of the World Uyghur Congress.

The laws created “significant scope for arbitrary, inconsistent and subjective application of the law,” says the report, and opened the floodgates for a catalogue of extra-legal abuses that are continuing to this day, including violations of reproductive rights and forced labor on an industrial scale.

Staggering conclusions that “around 10-20 per cent of the adult ‘ethnic population’ in selected counties and townships were incarcerated between 2017 and 2018” were compounded by figures detailing a rise in criminal convictions in Xinjiang in 2017 by 35 per cent; 86,655 defendants (ten times more than in 2016) received jail terms of five years or more. This included prominent scholars, artists, and intellectuals from the Uyghur community, some of whom are still unaccounted for, and whose cases have been taken up by UN human rights mechanisms.

Whilst welcoming the findings, Uyghur rights groups, concerned politicians and activists are muted in their praise and are pressing for concrete action based on the verdict.

Lord David Alton has written to Liz Truss, U.K. Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership front runner, asking her to lead the call to create an international tribunal to follow up the UN Report as a matter of urgency, while she herself quoted in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, reaffirmed her commitment to “act with international partners to bring about a change in China’s actions and immediately end its appalling human rights violations in Xinjiang.”

Rushan Abbas, director of Campaign For Uyghurs, felt the omission of “genocide” in the report was “inexcusable,” and called for “tangible action to stop the CCP’s whitewashing, boldfaced lies, threats, extradition and acts of genocide.” Failure to act would fail “the lessons of the Holocaust, ‘never again’,” she said.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project and the World Uyghur Congress are leading a call by 60 Uyghur groups from 20 nations to take action. “This UN report is extremely important. It paves the way for meaningful and tangible action by member states, UN bodies, and the business community,” said World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa. “Accountability starts now,” he said.

Omer Kanat. Courtesy of the World Uyghur Congress.

“This is a game-changer for the international response to the Uyghur crisis,” said Uyghur Human Rights Project Executive Director Omer Kanat. “Despite the Chinese government’s strenuous denials, the UN has now officially recognized that horrific crimes are occurring.”

Despite 83 communications and 27 press releases to China since 2018, there have been no signs of political will to address concerns. The recent visit of Michelle Bachelet to Xinjiang was cursory and little more than a propaganda coup by China, and Kanat called for the UN Human Rights Council to take up a special session or urgent debate with the aim of establishing a Commission of Enquiry to independently examine the treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.

“Now that the leading UN office on human rights has spoken, there are no more excuses for failure to hold the Chinese government accountable,” said Elfidar Iltebir, Uyghur American Association President.

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