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Xinjiang: the time for the Council to act is now

By Sarah M. Brooks

September 14, 2022

As the Human Rights Council opens, ISHR calls for urgent, concrete action to hold China accountable for human rights violations, including in the Uyghur region, that may amount to crimes against humanity.

The call was underpinned by a landmark OHCHR report which found evidence of systemic discrimination, mass arbitrary detention, torture, and sexual and gender based violence perpatrated by Chinese authorities against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities in the Xinjiang region.

‘The OHCHR assessment report documents a range of violations that, given their severity and extent, likely constitute atrocity crimes under international law. In the face of overwhelming evidence, it is now imperative that States, UN agencies and the international community take action to promote accountability and prevent further grave violations,’ said ISHR director Phil Lynch.

‘To fail to do so would not simply allow China to enjoy impunity. It would constitute a failure to stand with Uyghurs and other survivors of abuse, and a failure to stand up for basic principles upon which the Council is founded – namely that all persons should enjoy all human rights without discrimination.’

Some 20 Member and Observer States have already welcomed the report in the context of a General Debate with the Deputy High Commissioner at the UN.

‘For perhaps the first time, a strong showing among governments who see that more action is needed to address the situation in the Uyghur Region has outnumbered those willing to turn a blind eye to China’s abuses, or excuse them as matters of “internal affairs”,’ said Raphaël Viana David, ISHR’s China advocate.

ISHR welcomes the important attention paid to the situation by the UN Special Procedures, in particular the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.

Sarah M Brooks, ISHR Programme Director, reflected: ‘The UN human rights mechanisms have done their job; dozens of experts recently called upon the Council to advance accountability, including through a special session and appointment of a new expert or mechanism to monitor and report on the situation in China.’

‘This will be the challenge facing incoming High Commissioner Volker Türk: to be courageous, principled, and consultative in the way his Office follows up on their findings, and works to prevent future violations. Victims and survivors of violations will be looking to him for solidarity as well as concrete action to promote accountability for perpetrators.’

In addition to its statement to the Council, ISHR also joined with leading international NGOs and Uyghur groups in an open letter calling on all States at the UN to ‘mandate an independent international investigation into human rights violations against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other primarily Muslim ethnic minority groups in the People’s Republic of China’.

The full text of ISHR’s statement to the Human Rights Council is below.


Mr Vice-President, Deputy High Commissioner,

We welcome the release of the OHCHR report concluding that Chinese authorities have committed grave human rights violations against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities that may amount to crimes against humanity.

Through rigorous methodology and extensive evidence, and in view of its mandate to protect and promote all human rights for all, the Office documents a range of serious abuses – from ‘far-reaching discriminatory restrictions,’ to large-scale arbitrary detention, torture, and sexual and gender-based violence. It identifies China’s ‘deeply problematic’ anti-terrorism laws and policies, which conflate certain ‘religious or cultural practice or expression…with extremism’, as a root cause of these and other violations.

The report also notes intimidation and threats that transcend borders, as well as the devastating impact of enforced disappearances on those left without knowledge of their family members’ health, whereabouts or freedom; people like Ziba Murat who told us that she will continue to speak up until she sees her mother, prominent Uyghur doctor Gulshan Abbas, released, in her arms, and able to hug her grandchildren.

Faced with overwhelming evidence, and in line with this Council’s mandate and objective criteria for action, ISHR calls on all States to support the establishment of an independent international mechanism to monitor and report on human rights in China and promote accountability for violations.

With the OHCHR report highlighting that ‘the conditions remain in place for serious violations to continue and recur’, the time for the Council to act is now.

Thank you.


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