A United Nations report accusing China of committing grave human rights abuses in Xinjiang has triggered a fiery response from Beijing.
On Wednesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a 48-page report that found “serious human rights violations” in the Chinese government’s crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.
The assessment, which the international body said was “based on a rigorous review of documentary material currently available to the Office,” took years to finish and was published minutes before U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s four-year term ended.
According to the report, Chinese authorities engaged in acts of intimidation, threats and reprisals against victims and their relatives who are now living abroad and speaking about their experiences in Xinjiang.
“We had to sign a document to remain silent about the camp,” one interviewee revealed. “Otherwise, we would be kept for longer and there would be punishment for the whole family.”
At the end of the report, OHCHR said that the extent of arbitrary detentions against Uyghur and others in the context of “restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights, enjoyed individually and collectively, may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”
Just hours after the report was made public, Liu Yuyin, spokesperson for the Chinese mission to Geneva, released a statement dismissing the findings as a mere attempt to tarnish China’s reputation.
“It is completely a politicized document that disregards facts, and reveals explicitly the attempt of some Western countries and anti-China forces to use human rights as a political tool,” the statement read.
On Thursday, China’s Ambassador to the United Nations Zhang Jun spoke in a video expressing his government’s condemnation of the report, which he claims was made “to undermine China’s stability and obstruct China’s development.”
The report has been welcomed by rights advocates, foreign officials and Uyghur exiles who are looking into endorsing the issue before the U.N. Human Rights Council later this month.
In a joint statement, 63 Uyghur advocacy groups described the report as the “most definitive assessment of the issues faced by Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.”
Uyghur Human Rights Project Director Omer Kanat called the assessment a “game changer” in the global bid to address the Uyghur crisis.
“Despite the Chinese government’s strenuous denials, the U.N. has now officially recognized that horrific crimes are occurring,” he was quoted as saying.
Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), an international cross-party group of legislators, also released a statement in support of the U.N. report.
“The burden is now upon member states to ensure that formal legal determinations are pursued, including investigations into alleged genocide and crimes against humanity,” the statement read.
In the report, the U.N. rights office urged the Chinese government to release all those who have been detained arbitrarily and provide relevant information to relatives who have been demanding explanations about their missing family members.