The UN Commission on Human Rights released a stunning report on Wednesday alleging that human rights abuses China has committed against the Uyghur minority population may constitute “crimes against humanity.”
The 48-page report outlines allegations leveled against the Chinese Communist Party for years by numerous journalists, governments, and international organizations. The Uyghurs, an Islamic, Turkic-speaking minority in China’s remote northwestern frontier, have been reportedly subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, and forced labor.
“Despite well-documented evidence of state-sponsored torture and the intended destruction of the entire Uyghur ethnic groups through massive concentration camps, physical and mental torture, slave labor, massive displacement, enforced sterilization to prevent population growth and separation of children from their parents, the U.N. report came short of calling the crime by name,” Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, told The New York Times.
The UN first began receiving reports of abuse at the end of 2017, and the report cites 40 interviews with witnesses of the atrocities, 26 of whom reportedly spent time in a Uyghur internment camp. China initially denied the existence of the camps, and when that became impossible, Beijing characterized them as “vocational training centers” meant to combat “extremism.”
The Chinese mission to the UN released a 122-page counter condemning the UN’s decision to release their report.
“This so called ‘assessment’ … ignores the human rights achievements made together by people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and the devastating damage caused by terrorism and extremism to the human rights of people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang,” the Chinese mission said.
The CCP has been increasingly aggressive in its censorship of foreign media, using its iron grip on the highly coveted Chinese market to compel American corporations like Disney and the NBA to kowtow to the party line.
While the UN report was condemnatory in its language, it did not go so far as to call the ongoing campaign of repression a genocide, despite the widespread demolition of Uyghur mosques, restrictions on the speaking and teaching the Uyghur language, forced abortions of Uyghur children and the drastic and demonstrable drop in Uyghur birth rates.
“It is imperative that nations take this report and make concrete steps toward stopping these crimes against humanity and holding China accountable for them,” Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur American activist said.
Abbas previously worked as a translator for the US Department of Defense, and after he began speaking out his sister was reportedly sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Chinese government. Chinese authorities have been accused of taking reprisals against the relatives of whistleblowers and foreign critics.
For some Uyghurs, the report is too little, too late. Mukerrem Abitoglu, who fled to Turkey from China with her youngest daughter 5 years ago, told Reuters, “China kills our young people, leaves our children orphaned so what [the United Nations] do now is not enough.”