Unconscionably Delayed UN Report Rebukes China’s False Narrative on Xinjiang

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Unconscionably Delayed UN Report Rebukes China’s False Narrative on Xinjiang

CHRD welcomes the report assessing the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights but regrets the unconscionable delay in issuing the report.  

“Although unreasonably delayed, the UN has finally recognized that the Chinese government may have committed crimes against humanity in the Uyghur region,” CHRD’s Research and Advocacy Coordinator William Nee said. 

“The OHCHR, using cautious language, reiterates the concerns of the human rights community and offers a point-by-point rebuttal of the Chinese government’s narratives intended to explain away the human rights violations already documented in the region,” Nee added.

“The report provides the UN’s official seal of approval to the well-documented evidence of crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government in the XUAR. However, the unconscionable delay of the report’s release reflects a lack of urgency about human rights atrocities under the High Commissioner’s watch. The months-long delay meant lost opportunities to consolidate any political will in the international community to pull out all stops to end the crimes, reduce harm and suffering, and to give voice to the voiceless,” said Renee Xia, CHRD director.   

The OHCHR report details evidence of severe human rights violations from human rights groups, journalists, and activists, as well as from interviews with victims of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minority backgrounds. In some of the key areas of violations, the report offers a stinging rebuke to the official narrative of the Chinese Communist Party on Xinjiang:

  • China’s counterterrorism policies are based on “vague and broad concepts,” with terms that are “vulnerable to arbitrary and discriminatory application” (paragraph 35).
  • Despite being called “vocational” centers, the Chinese government did not provide OHCHR with any curriculum of supposedly vocational learning at the “vocational education and training centers” (paragraph 50).
  • Torture (paragraphs 75, 78), forced medication (paragraph 72), sexual violence (paragraph 73), and a lack of medical care (paragraph 74) were experienced by victims in re-education camps;
  • Alongside the re-education camp system, criminal sentencing also increased significantly (paragraph 58).
  • Freedom of religion has been severely curtailed (paragraphs 80-93), and “standard tenets of Islamic religion and practice” were often targeted under the broad definitions of “extremism” (paragraph 84). Satellite imagery showed destruction of mosques (paragraph 85) and religious sites (paragraph 86). 
  • There were violations of reproductive rights. The OHCHR spoke to women who had alleged that they were forced to undergo IUD insertions and forced to have abortions by authorities under China’s family planning policies, and the women risked imprisonment if they refused to comply (paragraph 111).
  • The report noted the problem of family separation caused by enforced disappearances (paragraphs 130-135).

CHRD finds it regrettable that the OHCHR report:

  • Uses the official Chinese government’s euphemistic and misleading label “vocational education and training centers” to refer to the re-education camps. The report does nonetheless point out that these VETCs, according to the guidelines laid out China’s own White Papers intended to justify them (paragraphs 37-40), entail widespread deprivation of liberty that does not conform to international law. Despite portrayals by the Chinese government that attending these camps was a “voluntary” action by participants, the OHCHR finds that the “trainees” were sent to the camps against their will (paragraph 45), without lawyers, or any access to due process to contest the deprivation of liberty (paragraph 40);
  • Falls short of calling out on the abusive practice of forced labor. The report noted that government documents linked the “vocational education training center” system to employment in factories and elsewhere (paragraph 120). The report pointed out that the Chinese government’s employment schemes seemed to be “discriminatory in nature” and have “elements of coercion” (paragraph 128). Such discrimination was noted as a factor in making people susceptible to forced labor (paragraph 123).

“Recognizing in an official UN report these robust findings, which have been overwhelmingly documented by civil society, testified by victims, though unconscionably delayed for months in its release by the High Commissioner, gives a voice to the voiceless and a measure of empowerment to victims, while perhaps encouraging silent UN member states to speak out and demand accountability,” Renee Xia added

“Family members of detained Uyghurs and direct victims who have escaped abroad have been crying out, begging, and pleading for the UN’s highest office leading efforts to protect human rights to speak out. Finally, they may find a small measure of support to their efforts to seek justice. But the work is far from done. The interim High Commissioner, and the next High Commissioner, once appointed, must double down on her office’s obligatory efforts to help free unjustly detained Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities and seek to hold the Chinese government responsible for these human rights violations, as the report has confirmed,” Xia added.


In March of this year, CHRD joined nearly 200 human rights groups in expressing to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet that the report on grave and ongoing human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim minorities in the XUAR should be released without further delay. In April, CHRD joined over 70 human rights groups to convey concern that, with respect to High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s proposed trip to China to assess the human rights situation in Xinjiang, she had not taken diplomatic steps to obtain unrestricted access to the region, among other issues. The letter also urged the immediate release of the report. 

CHRD also submitted a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2018 laying out many of the discriminatory policies targeting Uyghurs and other predominately Muslim ethnic minorities in the XUAR. In 2019, CHRD sent a follow up submission assessing the Chinese government’s lack of implementation of the recommendations by the CERD.  CHRD has also noted how Uyghur cultural figures and intellectuals have been particularly targeted by the Chinese government’s crackdown on Uyghur society.  

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