The United Nations has outlined "credible" reports of torture against Uyghur people in the region of Xinjiang. While for some it represents a "game changer," for others the long-awaited report is insufficient.
By WIlliam Yang
September 1, 2022
There are roughly 12 million Uyghurs living in the land-locked region of Xinjiang
After waiting for almost a year, the United Nations Human Rights Office released the Xinjiang report on Wednesday, suggesting that China's large-scale internment and treatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in western China may amount to "crimes against humanity."
Human rights organizations have weighed in on the significance of this report, saying the findings expose the extent of harm that China has done to more than one million ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region. Others say the final results show why Beijing tried so hard to prevent the report from being released.
HRW: 'Sweeping rights abuses'
"The High Commissioner's damning findings explain why the Chinese government fought tooth and nail to prevent the publication of the Xinjiang report, which lays bare China's sweeping rights abuses," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. "The United Nations Human Rights Council should use the report to initiate a comprehensive investigation into the Chinese government's crimes against humanity targeting the Uyghurs and others — and hold those responsible to account."
Omer Kanat, the executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, described the UN report as a "game changer" and Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress, said "it paves the way for meaningful and tangible action by member states, UN bodies, and the business community."
But for others, the UN's report has been a case of too little, too late.
Rayhan Asat, a Uyghur human rights lawyer and non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told DW that the report should not only document the attention-grabbing horrors of the camp, but also the criminalization of everyday Turkic and Muslim cultural expression in the name of countering "extremism."
"China should understand this as a demonstration of the world's seriousness about defending and protecting Uyghur rights, and that if it wishes to be seen as a world leader, then it must immediately abandon the genocidal policies that are making it an international pariah once again," she said.
Asat is not alone in her criticism of the way the UN has handled the case.
"If this report was released when it was ready, we might have had less casualties," said Nury Turkel, the chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, who is a Uyghur lawyer.
"The damage done to the Uyghur people is irreversible. No one can bring it back to us. This crime is still underway. I don't have words for my disappointment and dissatisfaction with the UN," he told DW.
On Wednesday, the Chinese ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, said Beijing was in complete opposition to the allegations made in the report, while adding that the documents haven't been made available to them. This is in contrast to what the UN's human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said upon the report's release, stating it had been provided to the relevant authorities in China.
"It simply undermines the cooperation between the UN and a member state. It completely interferes in China's internal affairs," Zhang Jun said.
Last week, Bachelet admitted that she was facing "tremendous pressure" over the Xinjiang report. In an emailed statement to news agency AFP on Wednesday, Bachelet said the issues are serious while repeating that she had brought them up with Chinese authorities during her trip there in May.
Bachelet also insisted that dialogue with China didn't mean "turning a blind eye."
"The politicization of these serious human rights issues by some states did not help. They made the task more difficult, they made the engagement more difficult and they made the trust-building and the ability to really have an impact on the ground more difficult," she said.
Protests have gone global to defend the rights of Uyghurs, including this one outside the Chinese embassy in London earlier this year
Activists criticize Bachelet
However, some human rights activists told DW that Bachelet has failed to fulfill the duties that come with the role of UN human rights chief.
"The post of the high commissioner for human rights requires you to be a champion of human rights beyond states. You are not a mediator between governments, which is a role that she has been assuming in this situation," said Raphael Viana David, a China and Latin America Advocate at the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).
"She should represent the higher interest of human rights in the world beyond geopolitical concerns. This has been one of our main criticisms of her approach to China," he added.
But for some Uyghurs whose family members remain stranded in Xinjiang, the report helps to bring China's persecution of Uyghurs back into the global spotlight.
"The report makes the Uyghur situation more known to the world, especially the member states of the UN," said Mamutjan Abdurehim, an exiled Uyghur man in Australia who has been separated from his wife and two children since 2016.
"I hope this report will be a fresh rattling cry for more condemnation and pressure on China so it can reverse its policies and release those innocent people like my wife while reuniting Uyghur families like mine," he told DW.
What happens next?
With the report now being made public, Viana David from ISHR, says the next important step is for countries in the UN human rights council to form a coordinated and multilateral response.
"As the human rights council will start its next session in a bit more than a week, the diplomatic community in the council should coordinate strong responses that include public condemnation and the reiteration of the recommendations and findings in the report," he said.
Additionally, he thinks member states should try to create a UN mechanism that will monitor the situation in China. "This mechanism should look at the situation in China overall. The report gives an impetus for an investigation or provides key momentum to look at the human rights situation not only in Xinjiang but also in China overall," he added.