China’s actions in Xinjiang merit special human rights session, UN experts say

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China’s actions in Xinjiang merit special human rights session, UN experts say

The United Nations has been urged to convene a special session of its Human Rights Council to discuss last week’s explosive report that found China may have committed “crimes against humanity” in the western region of Xinjiang.

A group of UN-appointed experts recommended the creation of a special envoy to monitor rights conditions in China , saying the world must not “turn a blind eye” to the “systematic human rights violations” in the region.

“They urge UN Member States and UN agencies and business enterprises to demand that China fulfils its human rights obligations, including during their ongoing dialogues with the government,” read a statement issued on Wednesday by 45 independent UN-appointed experts.

The signatories mostly comprised rapporteurs with expertise spanning human rights and counterterrorism, torture and people trafficking, modern slavery, involuntary disappearances and religious freedom.

The statement was organised by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
Rapporteurs are independent appointees asked to investigate specific rights issues in specific regions and make recommendations.

Their statement said China ’s policies had restricted the rights of Uygurs in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in a litany of areas, including religious freedom, reproduction, freedom of expression and to assemble, forced labour, and “freedom from any violation of the right to life and from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and from enforced disappearance”.

The report, issued in the final minutes of Michelle Bachelet’s last day as UN human rights chief, said some of Beijing’s policies had resulted in “serious human rights violations” in Xinjiang , and urged the Chinese government to repeal them.

It linked Beijing’s employment policies to forced labour, found evidence of torture in detention camps that the Chinese government describes as vocational training centres, and pointed to “unusual” and “coercive” government actions that led to a starkly plunging birth rate in Xinjiang .

Along with its own assessment, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights published a lengthy rebuttal by China ’s UN mission, which rejected all accusations of human rights violations in Xinjiang and said the report was based on “disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces” which “undermines the credibility” of the office.

The experts commended the UN report, made by the OHCHR, and Ní Aoláin called it a “principled and holistic assessment” of conditions in Xinjiang .

“It builds on the work that a number of special procedure mechanisms have been doing diligently for a number of years, from the working group on business and human rights, to the special rapporteur on minorities, to my own mandate, the counterterrorism human rights mandate,” she said. “We think it amplifies and validates what the UN system as a whole has been saying for years”.

Ní Aoláin noted the report “demanded” a special session of the Human Rights Council, despite Beijing’s objections.

“The Human Rights Council was designed and created to address global situations of concern in relation to human rights. No country is an exception to that. I would point out, for example, in the aftermath of the George Floyd incident, there was a special session on the United States,” she said.

“We have special session s on Ukraine, we’ve had special session s on Afghanistan,” Ní Aoláin added. “Where there is a confluence of concerns about human rights abuses in a country, that’s the function of the council.”

Asked if she was concerned that China might block any move to discuss the findings at the UN level, she said: “At the end of the day, I think it’s really difficult for any country, no matter how powerful, when the evidence keeps coming out, when the work is done, to make these things go away. You can’t wish them away.”

Liu Yuyin, a Chinese spokesperson in Geneva, singled out Ní Aoláin, an Irish academic, for “echoing the Xinjiang -related lies and misinformation fabricated by the US and some other Western countries and anti-China forces”.

“The political nature of Ms Aoláin and a few other experts has been clearly seen by the world, and their anti-China show should be brought to an end,” Liu said.

Alice Edwards, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said the interviews “appeared to point to a pattern that these are not isolated acts of torture but rather deliberate and state sanctioned violence and intimidation, especially during interrogations and the reference by multiple interviewees to the use of the ‘tiger chair’”.

China “must first and foremost investigate the claims of torture and inhuman punishment, and all other human rights allegations”, she said.

“No country likes to have their human rights laundry aired in public. But denying there is a problem in the face of this and many other reports and a growing body of evidence and still asking the world to look the other way will not resolve this for them,” Edwards added.

In Brussels on Monday, Dominic Porter, head of the EU’s China desk, said the bloc was “working constructively with UN members to offer victims a real chance of justice. In other words, we’re ready to play our cards”.

“Do I know what the game plan is right now? No. That’s the short answer, [but] it’s vital to have a game plan, not to let the victims of these crimes to be left without any form of effort to push forward on accountability,” Porter said.

“We’ve got to be realistic about what the UN is capable of,” he added. “The system isn’t perfect but we have to use it to the best of our abilities.”

—The Star, Malaysia