Summary prepared by Sheldon Stone, René Cassin alumnus and Member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide UK Advisory Board
On 31 August 2022, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights at the UN published a report concluding that Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim minorities in the Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) suffer “serious human rights violations” that ‘may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,’ ‘characterized by a discriminatory component,’ and based on an ‘anti-terrorism law system, deeply problematic from the perspective of international human rights norms and standards’.
Although these violations covered ‘a wide range of human rights’, the report highlighted:
- ‘large-scale arbitrary deprivation of liberty’ of up to 20% of adults in ‘Vocational and Educational Training Camps (VETCs)’;
- ‘Laws policies, programmes and practices’ underpinning the above (e.g., surveillance, checkpoints, home visiting), which ‘pose several considerable human rights concerns (rights to privacy, freedoms of movement, religious, cultural and linguistic expression), likely to be discriminatory in intent and/or effect’;
- ‘credible allegations of torture…ill-treatment…forced medical treatment…sexual & gender-based violence’;
- ‘serious indications of violations of reproductive rights through coercive and discriminatory enforcement of…birth control policies’;
- ‘similar indications that labour and employment schemes…linked to VETCs may involve elements of coercion and discrimination…on religious and ethnic grounds’;
- ‘Family separation and reprisals’ against the Uyghur diaspora seeking information or expressing concern on the whereabouts of ‘disappeared’ loved ones.
The report recommends that
- China immediately investigates and ceases all such violations, comply with all relevant international human rights conventions and covenants, implement relevant UN committee recommendations, and allow unrestricted access to relevant UN bodies and to the OHCHR for follow up visits.
- The business community undertake ‘enhanced human rights due diligence, and report on this transparently’ in line with ‘UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ especially but not exclusively in ‘the surveillance and security sector’.
- The international community support ‘follow-up to these recommendations,’ ‘refrain from returning members of Uyghur and other minorities to China at risk of refoulement,’ providing them with all necessary humanitarian assistance.
The STRENGTH of this report is that it was based very largely on the People Republic of China’s (PRC) government’s own policy documents and statistics, and research bodies within China. The PRC is therefore condemned by its own words, and the international business and political bodies obliged to act in implementation of its own treaties and covenants.
The report’s weakness:
- Contains no proposal for an international tribunal
2. No mention of removal of one million children from families
3. Underplays scale of forced birth prevention
4. No mention ‘credible risk of genocide’ and nations’ duties under genocide convention
The report further excludes or quotes electively from serious independent research by sources the PRC considers inimical, in particular that of Dr. Adrian Zenz (only one of whose works was quoted) and of the Uyghur and China Tribunals, who have amassed the world’s largest evidence base of PRC government documents and policy, drone surveillance, independent and Chinese Government research, intelligence reports and witness testimonies.
It has therefore underplayed the scale of atrocity, notably that of forced birth prevention estimated to target 80% of Uyghur women of childbearing age, and nearly one million children forcibly taken from their parents and forbidden to speak Uyghur or practice Islam. These two offences clearly fall within the legal definition of Genocide, and in fact the Uygur Tribunal determined in December 2021 that the PRC was guilty of the crime of Genocide, as defined by the 1949 Genocide Convention, on the basis if prevention of future births.
In addition, there is no mention of the large programme of forced organ harvesting, nor of the similarity of the vocational ‘educational training camps’ VETCs to concentration camps, which they clearly resemble in construction.
Similarly, the scale of slave labour was downplayed, with no mention of the forced transfer of at least 600,000 across the country, nor the unique and intentional relationship of slave labour to both physical and cultural genocide, through separation of husbands and wives (with the intention of preventing reproduction), removing children from homes where one or both parents were in labour camps or factories, and weakening local communities through labour transfer schemes. There is little mention of the major sectors where slave labour occurs, such as the cotton, apparel, footwear, hi-tech, solar panel and tomato industries, all of which make critical contributions to China’s economy.
Had the report mentioned the removal of children and the intended extent of FBP, the UN would have been able to say that there is a ‘credible risk of Genocide’ and thus activate member states’ obligations under the UN’s Genocide Convention to ‘take all reasonable action’ to ‘punish and prevent Genocide’. This would have led to a wider range of recommended actions than those targeting surveillance technology such as sanctions against responsible officials and severing business links and other collaborations with state entities, companies and institutions with critical roles in different components of the Genocide.
NONETHELESS this is a report that the international community cannot ignore, being based on data largely furnished by the PRC. It is one that activists can lever to demand action by governments, businesses, investors and by the UN, including suitably reinforcing its human rights due diligence framework or working within the UN General Assembly or Human Rights Council to apply further pressure to the PRC until it restores to the Uyghurs and other minorities, the cultural and religious freedoms enshrined in its own constitution, and which the report references early in its introduction.
***UPDATE***: On 9 September China’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said that Beijing would not cooperate with the U.N. human rights office following the release of this report on alleged human rights abuses in the far western region of Xinjiang.
You can follow Sheldon on Twitter @SheldonStone19 and read more of his blogs here