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UN: China may have committed crimes against humanity against Uyghurs

UN: China may have committed crimes against humanity against Uyghurs

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The United Nations said today that, following a lengthy independent investigation, it has concluded that China may have committed crimes against humanity against Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities by implementing policies that have involved their arbitrary mass detention and other serious abuses against them.

In its take on China, which was released minutes before midnight (local time) when UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s term ended, her agency has confirmed that anti-terrorism legislation led to the “large-scale deprivation of liberty” of these minorities, at least between 2017 and 2019.

Since then the pattern seems to have changed and the internment centers—called “vocational education centers” by the government—have been reduced in size and number, but arrests still occur through criminal prosecutions resulting in the imprisonment of mostly Uyghurs.

For this, the Chinese government continues to use the same argument: the fight against terrorism and extremism, with which for decades official policy has identified the Muslim minorities settled in Xinjiang, one of China’s five large autonomous regions and its gateway to Central Asia.

The types of abuses

The High Commissioner for Human Rights maintains that it considers credible the allegations that torture, including in some cases forced medical treatment, was practiced in the internment centers, although it acknowledges that it cannot draw definitive conclusions about the extent of such abuses.

The central government’s attitude towards the Uighurs has been based on its perception of them as a threat, which has led to restrictions on their freedoms and rights. These include the right to freedom of religion, expression, movement, and privacy.

There are even “serious indications of violations of reproductive rights through the forced implementation of family planning and birth control programs.”

Beijing’s policies against this and other minorities—such as Kazakhs—also include the separation of families and disruption of contact with other people.


Despite the difficulties and the fact that China did not authorize UN human rights experts to visit the region to gather information directly, Bachelet’s office was able to interview people who were detained in the internment centers and who explain that their ordeal began with an initial detention in a police station.

There, many told of being interrogated before being sent to the internment centers, without having access to legal defense or any way to oppose their transfer.

“None of those interviewed said they were able to leave the facilities or visit home,” with confinement times varying from two to 18 months. In no case were they informed how long they would remain in these places, which were guarded by armed personnel.

All were warned that once outside they were to speak well of the center and refrain from giving information about its real nature.

This situation was made possible by the fact that Chinese anti-terrorism legislation is vague and its concepts very broad, allowing officials to interpret it at their discretion, according to the report.

The affected population

In this investigation, the UN does not offer concrete figures on the number of people who were interned in these camps, where in recent years it has been claimed that one million people were interned.

However, the analysis of different sources of information—including official ones—allows it to estimate that between 10% and 20% of the adult population belonging to an ethnic minority residing in several Xinjiang counties and villages could have been detained between 2017 and 2018.

The reasons for meeting such a fate were as broad as they were absurd: having too many children, being born in certain years, having been in prison, wearing a veil or having a beard, having applied for a passport, and not having left the country, having traveled abroad or having downloaded the WhatsApp messaging app.

Xinjiang has been for decades a Chinese region with a clear Muslim majority, although the demographic balance has shifted in recent times, with incentives given to ethnic Han (majority) Chinese to move there.

According to a 2021 report by the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, 21% of arrests recorded across China occurred in Xinjiang, despite having less than 2% of the national population.

As a corollary, the Bachelet Office calls for the release of all those arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang, clarification of the whereabouts of those who are wanted by their families, a full review of anti-terrorism legislation, and an investigation into the destruction of mosques and Muslim cemeteries.

After more than a year working on the report, Bachelet’s office delayed its publication until today following China’s invitation to the High Commissioner to visit the country last May, which resulted in a restricted mission justified by pandemic restrictions.




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