The United States said Thursday that a long-awaited UN report reaffirmed its view that China is carrying out genocide against the Uyghur people, as Beijing furiously labeled the world body an accomplice of the West.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stood by the human rights report on the western region of Xinjiang and called on China to follow the text’s recommendations to end “discriminatory” practices against the Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim people.
The landmark report — released minutes before UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet left office — detailed a string of rights violations including torture, forced labor and arbitrary detention, bringing the UN seal to many of the allegations long made by activist groups, Western nations and the Uyghur community in exile.
The report said that China may have carried out “crimes against humanity” but stopped short of calling Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs “genocide,” a term used since January 2021 by the United States and since embraced by legislatures of a number of other Western nations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, however, said the substance of the report “deepens and reaffirms our grave concern regarding the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that PRC government authorities are perpetrating against Uyghurs.”
“We will continue to hold the PRC to account and call on the PRC to release those unjustly detained, account for those disappeared and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Tibet and across the PRC,” he said in a statement, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
Beijing hit back hard against the report — more than a year in the making — and maintained firm opposition to its release, sharing a more-than-100-page document from the Xinjiang provincial government defending its policies.
“The so-called critical report you mentioned is planned and manufactured firsthand by the US and some Western forces, it is wholly illegal and invalid,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing Thursday.
“The report is a hodgepodge of misinformation, and it is a political tool which serves as part of the West’s strategy of using Xinjiang to control China,” he added.
‘Politicization’ of UN work
Bachelet, who had faced stinging US criticism for visiting China in May and not immediately releasing the report, said she had decided a full assessment was needed of the situation inside the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
The former president of Chile was determined to release the document before her four-year term as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expired at the end of August — and did so with 13 minutes to spare at 11:47 pm in Geneva.
“I said that I would publish it before my mandate ended and I have,” Bachelet said in an email to AFP Thursday.
“The politicization of these serious human rights issues by some states did not help.”
Guterres was “concerned” by what he had read in the report, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
“The secretary-general very much hopes the government of China will take on board the recommendations put forward in the assessment of the HCHR,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” Dujarric added.
China has been accused for years of detaining more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims in the region.
Beijing has vehemently rejected the claims, insisting it is running centers for vocational education designed to curb Islamic extremism.
“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,” the report said.
The UN Human Rights Office could not confirm how many people were affected by the centers but concluded that the system operated on a “wide scale” across the entire region.
Campaigners have also accused China of forcibly sterilizing women, and the report cited “credible indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive enforcement of family planning policies.”
Campaign groups have said the report should act as a launchpad for further action.
Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson said the “damning” findings of sweeping rights abuses showed why Beijing “fought tooth and nail” to prevent its publication.
The response from the Uyghur activist community was mixed, with some groups praising the report, while others wished it had gone further in its condemnation.
Uyghur Human Rights Project executive director Omer Kanat called the report “a game-changer” for the international response to the Uyghur situation, but Salih Hudayar, a Uyghur-American who campaigns for Xinjiang independence, said the document was missing the word “genocide.”