Minutes before Michelle Bachelet, U.N. high commissar for human rights, was due to depart, the organization’s human right office presented its long-delayed report.
GENEVA — The long-awaited report by the United Nations Human Rights Office was released Wednesday. It accused China of serious violations of human rights that “may constitute international crime in particular crimes against mankind” in its mass detentions of Uyghurs in Xinjiang’s far west region.
Just before midnight in Geneva, the assessment was made public. This was just minutes before Michelle Bachelet was due to depart office.
The release was the end of a nearly one-year-long delay that had put Ms. Bachelet’s office under intense pressure from rights groups, activists, and others who had accused her, among other things, of giving in to Beijing. They had tried to block it.
The 48-page report didn’t use the term “genocide”, a designation that was applied by the United States as well as by the unofficial tribunal in Britain last. It confirmed claims by rights activists and groups that China had detained Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and others for having overseas ties, or because they expressed religious faith.
Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, said that the report was “an unprecedented challenge against Beijing’s lies & horrific treatment Uyghurs.” “The shocking findings of the high commissioner explain why China’s government fought tooth-and-nine to stop publication of the Xinjiang Report, which exposes China’s sweeping rights violations.”
Uyghur activists saw the report as a strong vindication to their long-standing effort to raise awareness about the persecution of ethnic minorities within Xinjiang. Beijing routinely rejects any claims of arbitrary detentions or abuses in Xinjiang, and accuses Uyghur activists with lying. To silence them, the activists claim their relatives in Xinjiang were detained, imprisoned and threatened by authorities.
Dolkun, president of World Uyghur Congress, stated that “it paves the path for meaningful and tangible actions by member states, U.N. bodys and the business community.” He said, “Accountability begins now.”
Tahir Imin, an activist Uyghur in Washington, stated that he was surprised by Ms. Bachelet’s release of the report before her departure.
He said that he didn’t expect it to reach such a strong conclusion. “It mentioned crimes against humanity. It made me a bit emotional.”
Ms. Bachelet stated that she had promised to publish the report before her mandate expired in comments sent early Thursday by the Geneva office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
She explained that she had delayed publishing because she wanted to “take the greatest care to address the inputs and responses received from (Chinese government) last week.”
China received a copy from Ms. Bachelet days before it was released. At a Wednesday news briefing, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign minister, stated that the report was a “failure orchestrated by America and a few Western powers”. China responded with a 131-page reply claiming that the “assessment” of human rights was “based upon disinformation and lies” which ignored its success in stopping extremism within Xinjiang.
The Chinese authorities initially denied that the detention campaign was underway, but then later stated that they were training basic job and language skills in order to boost employment and combat radicalism.
However, former detainees have spoken out about physical abuse and mistreatment, as well as hours of indoctrination into Communist Party ideology. Some detainees included businesspeople, scholars, and community leaders who didn’t need job training.
26 detainees were interviewed by United Nations officials. Two thirds described torture or other forms of ill treatment. The report also stated that sexual and gender-based violence including rape appeared to be credible.
It stated that Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities were subject to “arbitrary and discriminatory” detention.
The U.N. agency recommended that China immediately release all persons arbitrarily detained, clarify whereabouts of missing people, and provide information to family members about allegations of abuses at the facilities.
Ms. Bachelet, the U.N. high commissar for human rights, had often spoken out about abuses and concerns on all continents, as well as China’s crackdown against democracy in Hong Kong. She was cautious about China’s treatment for dissidents, and the allegations of crimes committed in Xinjiang.
After she visited China in May, criticism against Ms. Bachelet grew. She made a brief trip to Xinjiang. did not express disapproval of the crackdown in that region. Instead, it stated that the main outcome of her trip was to encourage high-level discussions with the Chinese authorities.
Overseas Uyghurs and rights organizations denounced Ms. Bachelet for her comments, accusing her of not paying attention to widespread repression. Her office’s report was welcomed by the international Uyghur community as an acknowledgement of the abuses China is accused of in its state policy in the region.
Ms. Bachelet may be spared from the charges of activists that she failed to perform her duties, but it won’t end the controversy surrounding her dealings in Beijing.
Nearly a year ago U.N. investigators found a report about Xinjiang on Ms. Bachelet’s desk. However, she was accused repeatedly of delaying publication. She acknowledged at a recent news conference that she had given priority in reaching an agreement with Beijing regarding the terms of her China visit.
Her reasoning was revealed in Ms. Bachelet’s Tuesday speech to the Human Rights Council. She reiterated her belief that constructive dialogue is important and that multilateral institutions must do all they can to prevent a “great fracture”.
Critics claim that her approach was largely a play on Beijing’s part.
Sarah M. Brooks (program director, International Service for Human Rights) stated that she had done little by releasing the crucial report within the time allowed for her mandate. “We must push her office, her successor, and the states to ensure survivors receive answers and that perpetrators are held accountable.
Human Rights Watch’s Ms. Richardson urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate the Chinese government’s “crimes against humanity” targeting Uyghurs, and other groups, and to hold those responsible accountable.
It is possible that the publication of the report takes too long.
Beijing diplomats said that the late release of the document left no time for governments or rights organizations to respond in a strong way in the Human Rights Council’s final session in twelve days.