The UN stated this Wednesday that, after a lengthy independent investigationhas concluded that China may have committed crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities, by applying policies that have involved their mass arbitrary detention and other serious abuses against them.
In a historic position statement against China, which was broadcast minutes before midnight (local time) in which the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, ended, her body has confirmed that the anti-terrorist legislation led to the “large-scale deprivation of liberty” of those minorities, at least between 2017 and 2019.
Since then the pattern seems to have changed and the internment centers – called by the government “vocational education centers” – have been reduced in size and number, but arrests continue to occur through criminal processes that lead to the imprisonment of mainly Uyghurs.
To this end, the Chinese Government continues to use the same argument: the fight against terrorism and extremism, with which for decades official policy has identified the Muslim minorities settled in Xinjiang, one of the five autonomous regions of China, with a large territorial extension and that is its access to Central Asia.
types of abuse
The High Commissioner for Human Rights maintains that it considers credible the allegations that torture was practiced in detention centers, which in some cases included forced medical treatment, although it recognizes that it cannot draw definitive conclusions about the extent of these abuses.
The central government’s attitude towards the Uyghurs has been based on their perception that they are a threat, which has led to their freedoms and rights being restricted. Among them the right to freedom of religion, expression, movement and privacy.
Even “there are serious indications of violations of reproductive rights through the forced application of family planning and birth control programs.”
Beijing’s policies against this and other minorities – such as the Kazakhs – also include the separation of families and the interruption of contacts with other people.
Despite the difficulties and the fact that China did not authorize UN human rights experts to visit the region to collect information directly, Bachelet’s Office was able to interview people who were detained in detention centers and who explain that their ordeal began with an initial detention at a police station.
There, many reported having been interrogated before being sent to detention centers, without having had access to a legal defense or a way to oppose their transfer.
“None of those interviewed said that they were able to leave the facilities or visit their home,” with confinement times ranging from two to 18 months. In no case were they informed how long they would remain in those places, which were guarded by armed personnel.
All were warned that once outside they should speak well of the center and refrain from giving information about its real nature.
This situation was made possible because China’s anti-terrorism legislation is vague and broad in concept, allowing officials to interpret it at their discretion, according to the report.
Calculation of the affected population
In this investigation, the UN does not offer specific figures on the number of people who came to be in these camps, where in recent years it has been stated that one million people came to be interned.
However, the analysis of different sources of information -including official sources- allows him to calculate that between 10% and 20% of the adult population belonging to an ethnic minority residing in various counties and towns of Xinjiang could have been detained between 2017 and 2018.
The reasons for such a fate were as broad as they were absurd: having too many children, being born in certain years, having been in jail, wearing a veil or having a beard, having applied for a passport and not having left the country, having traveled abroad or have downloaded the WhatsApp messaging application.
Xinjiang has been a Chinese region with a clear Muslim majority for decades, although the demographic balance has changed in recent times with incentives given to Chinese of the Han ethnic group (majority) to move to live there.
According to a 2021 report by the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, 21% of recorded arrests in all of China occurred in Xinjiang, despite having less than 2% of the national population.
As a corollary, Bachelet’s Office calls for all those arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang to be released, for the whereabouts of those who are wanted by their families to be clarified, for the anti-terrorism legislation to be reviewed in its entirety and for the cases to be investigated. destruction of Muslim mosques and cemeteries.
After more than a year working on the report, Bachelet’s Office delayed its publication until today following China’s invitation to the High Commissioner to visit the country last May, which resulted in a restricted mission justified by the pandemic restrictions.