Friday September 02, 2022

China rejects UN rights panel report

China rejects UN rights panel report

Michelle Bachelet

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released the report on the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang. It took four years to prepare because China did not allow the UN team to visit Xinjiang until May 2018 when Bachelet visited the province. The conclusion that Bachelet reached in the report is that China’s use of anti-terrorism laws against the Uighurs amounted to “crimes against humanity”. It did not use the word ‘genocide’. China disagreed with the report and added its rejoinder to it. Bachelet demitted office on August 31 and she kept her promise of releasing the report before she left office.

The 45-page report said, “The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslims groups…may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” While the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and France have termed China’s treatment of the Uighurs as “genocide”, Bachelet did not use the word. She said that serious violations of human rights have been committed “in the context of the Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-‘extremism’ strategies.”

Bachelet could not pinpoint how many people were held in the Vocational Education and Training Centres (VETCs), but she found a “pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention” of Uighurs and other ethnic Muslim communities in Xinjiang between 2017 and 2019. She also noticed that there was a shift to using criminal justice processes to keep people in formal prison with lengthy terms of imprisonment. Bachelet in the report noted that there were “violations of reproductive rights through the coercive and discriminatory enforcement of family planning and birth control policies.”

In a letter published to the annexe of the report, China’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations said that it opposed the publication of the report because it was based on “discrimination and lies fabricated by anti-China forces and out of presumption of guilt.” It argued that living a happy life is a human right and people in Xinjiang are living a happy life. And it said that China was able to ensure a happy life for Uighurs because it was fighting “terrorism and extremism”. A 122-page report complied by the Information Office of Xinjiang, titled “Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism in Xinjiang: Truth and Fact” was also attached to the UN report. Meanwhile, Uighur organisations welcomed the report. Said Dolkun Isa, World Uyghur Congress president, “This UN report is extremely important. It paves the way for meaningful and tangible action by member states, UN bodies, and the business community. Accountability starts now.”

Owing to the inherent hostility of the Western democracies towards China, the UN rights committee report will evoke a strong response from most of the Western countries. But it is not certain whether sanctions will be imposed on China on this issue. Most Western countries have long-term and complicated business dealing with China and in China. A sanctions regime will be a difficult option. But there will be action of some kind from the European Union (EU), the US and the UK, and they might impose specific sanctions against officials involved in the administration of Xinjiang. It is most unlikely that the West will threaten military action against China on the Uighur issue. It is the diplomatic and power games that ignore the genuine victims of discrimination. The oppressed in Xinjiang will be left in the lurch because no leadership will do anything substantial for the Uighur people. At the most, Western countries can offer asylum to those fleeing Xinjiang. It is not easy for the Uighurs, not easy for China and not easy for the West to deal with this contentious issue.

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