China rejects UN report on Xinjiang and insists its treatment of Uyghurs is ‘best human rights practice’

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China on Thursday rejected the UN human rights report that found Beijing’s arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the western region of Xinjiang may amount to “crimes against humanity”.

The 48-page report, which corroborated separate findings by human rights groups, concluded that China has committed “serious” human rights violations under its anti-terrorism and anti-extremism policies.

The report called on Beijing to release the detained and sought “urgent attention” from the world community to rights violations in the Communist government’s drive.

China's diplomatic mission in Geneva said it firmly opposed the release of the UN assessment, which it said ignores human rights achievements made in Xinjiang and the damage caused by terrorism and extremism to the population.

“Based on the disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces and out of presumption of guilt, the so-called ‘assessment’ distorts China’s laws, wantonly smears and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs,” the protest read.

“People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang are living a happy life in peace and contentment. It is the greatest human rights protection and the best human rights practice.”

Earlier on Wednesday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called the report a “farce”.

“We firmly oppose the release of the so-called Xinjiang-related report by the UN Human Rights Office. This report is a farce orchestrated by the US and a small number of western powers,” he said.

“We hope that the high commissioner will make the right decision.”

Japan was one of the first foreign governments to comment on the report, which was released early Thursday morning in Asia. Its top government spokesperson urged China to improve transparency and human rights conditions in the Xinjiang region.

“Japan is highly concerned about human rights conditions in Xinjiang, and we believe that it is important that universal values such as freedom, basic human rights and rule of law are also guaranteed in China,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on the UN and governments to set up an independent investigation into the human rights abuses.

“Never has it been so important for the UN system to stand up to Beijing, and to stand with victims,” said John Fisher, the deputy director of global advocacy for the group.

The UN report made no mention of genocide, which some countries, including the United States, have accused China of committing in Xinjiang. The report was drawn in part from interviews with former detainees and others familiar with conditions at eight detention centres.

It said that descriptions of the detentions were marked by patterns of torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment and said that allegations of rape and other sexual violence appear credible.

“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups ... in (the) context of restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights ... may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” the report said.

The rights office said it could not confirm estimates that a million or more people were detained in the internment camps in Xinjiang, but added it was “reasonable to conclude that a pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention occurred” at least between 2017 and 2019.

Beijing has closed many of the camps, which it called vocational training and education centres, but hundreds of thousands of people continue to languish in prison, many on vague, secret charges.

The UN assessment said that reports of sharp increases in arrests and lengthy prison sentences in the region strongly suggested a shift toward formal incarceration instead of the use of the camps.

That the report was released was in some ways as important as its contents.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she received pressure from both sides to publish — or not publish — and resisted it all, while noting her experience with political squeeze during her two terms as president of Chile.

Her announcement in June that the report would be released by end of her 4-year term on Aug. 31 triggered a swell in back-channel campaigns — including letters from civil society, civilians and governments on both sides of the issue.

“To be perfectly honest, the politicisation of these serious human rights issues by some states did not help,” said Ms Bachelet, who early on staked out a desire to cooperate with governments.

“Beijing’s repeated denial of the human rights crisis in Xinjiang rings ever-more hollow with this further recognition of the evidence of ongoing crimes against humanity and other human rights violation in the region,” Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said in a statement.

Additional reporting by agencies