Uyghurs: The UN believes that China may have committed crimes against humanity by repressing the Uyghur minority | International

Michelle Bachelet after giving her report as the highest commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations, this Wednesday.FABRICE COFFRINI (AFP)

Michelle Bachelet put an end this Wednesday to her mandate as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights by dropping a bomb: the report on the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang, where the uyghur muslim minority, the majority in the area, sees its fundamental rights violated by the Beijing regime. China had warned, hours before its conclusions were known, that the publication of the report could damage its cooperation with the United Nations. The document, the result of a lengthy independent investigation, argues that China may have committed crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities by pursuing policies that involved mass arbitrary arrests and other serious abuses. The systematic practice of repression by the Beijing regime led to “large-scale deprivation of liberty” of these minorities at least between 2017 and 2019.

The UN accuses China of “serious violations of human rights” in the report, published in Geneva minutes before midnight (local time) on Wednesday, just as Bachelet’s mandate expired. For China, it is “a farce” organized by the US and Western countries. The document assesses allegations of repression against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, of which the researchers said they found “credible evidence.” The account notes that members of the Uyghur minority face “systematic arbitrary arrests” and some are subject to “patterns of mistreatment.” For years, the region has been subjected to a orwellian surveillance and it is estimated that at least one million Uyghurs are interned in labor and re-education camps, without counting the undetermined number of those subjected to forced sterilizations.

The Chinese government justifies the repression on the fact that the region is a hotbed for Islamic extremism, which manifests itself in the form of violent attacks against civilians perpetrated, according to the authorities, by radicalized members of that minority. In 2018 it was disclosed that the regime had created gigantic internment and work camps (“vocational training centers”, in the official definition) to separate them from this supposed extremist drift.

It all started at the end of 2017, when the UN Human Rights office began to receive more and more complaints from civil society groups regarding the disappearance of members of these Muslim ethnic minorities in the country’s autonomous Uyghur region. In 2018, the UN Working Group on Involuntary Disappearances reported a “dramatic” increase in Xinjiang “with the introduction of death camps.” re-education by the Government of China”, explains the text. “Numerous studies and reports published since then by a wide number of NGOs, think tanks and the media, as well as public accounts by victims, have alleged large-scale arbitrary arrests in so-called fieldsas well as allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including violence and forced labour”.

Bachelet acknowledged last week that she had received pressure both from those in favor of publishing the report, with the US in the lead, and from detractors, the first of them being China. He also revealed that he had received a letter signed by some 40 countries asking him not to publish the results of the investigation that his office had been encouraging for a couple of years and whose preparation was delayed when the Chinese government accepted that the high commissioner visit the country. last May.

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The controversial visit that the former Chilean president made to China is for many at the origin of her resignation not to repeat her mandate at the head of the UN office, when she even sounded like a possible replacement for António Guterres at the head of the general secretary, the post command of the organism. Too accommodating in the opinion of human rights organizations, Bachelet avoided delving into the repression of the Uyghurs so as not to stir up her hosts. He did urge Beijing to “review” its anti-terrorism policy in line with international standards, a call as vague as it is insufficient in the opinion of critics of the visit. Since it was announced, they warned that the diplomat’s trip could become in a propaganda tool in the hands of Beijing. Bachelet visited Canton, in southern China, and Xinjiang, in the northwest.

The High Commissioner defended her visit, alleging that it was a unique opportunity to see first-hand what was happening in the country and to have direct contact with relatives of Uyghurs who were or are still inmates in those camps. True to her word that he would make the report public before his mandate expires, Bachelet’s gesture also seeks to ingratiate herself with all those who expected a short-term report with content that tempers Chinese pressure. Neither one thing nor the other: the UN recognizes as credible, and constituting a crime as serious as crimes against humanity, the repeated complaints of violations of the fundamental rights of the Uyghurs.

Xinjiang is the largest region in China, one sixth of its total territory, and has a population of 25.85 million. It is rich in coal, gas, oil, lithium, zinc and lead, as well as being an important source of agricultural production, such as cotton. The fact that it shares external borders with Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan increases its strategic interest, since it offers routes and access to all of Central Asia. Demographically, the report notes, it has been one of the country’s fastest growing regions and its ethnic composition has changed gradually since 1949, by no means by chance. In 1953, when the first census was taken, more than 75% of the total population was made up of Uyghurs, Sunni Muslims, with the Han Chinese ethnic group, the majority in the country, representing just 7%. As a result of Beijing’s policy and the incentives offered to settle the Han, emigration to Xinjiang has leveled the presence of the two groups: according to the latest available census, the Uyghurs make up 45% of the population, and the have, 42%.

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