On August 31, 2022, the United Nations Council of Human Rights (UNCHR) finalized the assessment of human rights in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China and submitted its report. This assessment was undertaken after reporting the grave allegations of human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim communities, and people went missing in 2017. In 2018, the UN Working Group on enforced or Involuntary Disappearances reported a considerable increase in such cases. Various NGOs, think-tanks, media, etc., published reports on the alleged detention of people in large numbers and concentrating them in so-called camps.
A review in 2018 by the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed alarm over numerous reports citing the detention of people in this region on a large scale on the pretext of countering religious extremism. However, the government of China stated that vocational training centers exist for people involved in minor offenses. It further stated that these camps had been established to counter so-called ‘extremism’; hence, these people contribute to development, creating jobs for them, which further help alleviate poverty in the region.
Keeping the above facts in view, the seriousness of the allegations, and the amount of information received on the subject, OHCHR sought access to the region to verify the claims in 2018. Empowered by the UN General Assembly resolution 48/141, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continued its watch on the situation by closely monitoring and assessing the allegations. It reviewed the available open-source material, satellite imagery, other material etc., on the subject. Throughout OHCHR’s review process, all the documents of the govt of China, including its white paper, were examined holistically and authenticated. It also closely reviewed the information presented by the govt before various UN Human Rights bodies.
It is pertinent to mention that as part of the ensuing dialogue, on 17 Mar 2021, OHCHR officially submitted to the Permanent Mission of China to the UNO in Geneva a request for explicit sets of information describing various areas of particular interest, including official data, however, did not receive any communication. On 19 Jul 2021, OHCHR further proposed a meeting with relevant Government officials to discuss the applicable legal framework for counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism in the region. The OHCHR also interviewed people of the region, following rules and regulations on the subject and ascertained first-hand information.
Human Rights norms bind China concerning the right to life and the prohibition of discrimination based on caste, creed, color and religion. Other prohibitions include deprivation of life, torture, slavery, detention, racial discrimination, etc.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China is an important region, accounting for 1/6th of its total area, with a population of 25.85 million. This region is rich in natural resources such as coal, gas, oil, lithium, zinc and lead, and it is a significant source of agricultural production, such as cotton. As it shares external borders with Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russian Federation and Tajikistan, the region also provides essential routes and access to Central Asian Region markets and beyond. But it is one of the poorest regions in China.
- Grave human rights abuses have been committed in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the context of the government’s implementation of counter-terrorism and counter-violent extremism strategies.
- These human rights violations flow from a domestic ‘anti-terrorism law’ that is profoundly challenging and contrary to the international human rights norms and standards. It contains vague, broad, and open-ended concepts that allow officials to interpret and apply broad investigative, preventive and coercive powers in a context of limited safeguards and independent oversight.
- The treatment of persons held in the system of so-called VETC facilities is of equal concern. Allegations of torture or ill-treatment patterns, including forced medical treatment and adverse detention conditions, are credible, as are allegations of individual sexual and gender-based violence incidents.
- The policy of arbitrary detention and related patterns of misuse of VETC and other detention facilities are broadly against the members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities based on perceived security threats emanating from individual member groups.
- Inflicting suffering to affected Uyghur, Kazakh and other largely Muslim minority families, exacerbated by patterns of terrorizations and threats against the diaspora community members.
- According to law and policy, the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups, in the milieu of restrictions and denial mostly the fundamental rights enjoyed individually and collectively, may amount to international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.
- It is the fundamental responsibility of the government to ensure that all laws and policies conform with international human rights law and to explore at the earliest any allegations of human rights violations, ensure accountability for perpetrators and provide reparation to victims. Individuals who are indiscriminately deprived of their liberty should be immediately released.
Conclusion: Along with observations, the OHCHR has also recommended remedial measures. If we look at the report, these severe charges amount to a crime against humanity. This will undoubtedly pressure the multinational companies operating in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. They can’t operate in an environment wherein human rights violations occur. However, China has rejected the report’s findings and tried to the extent of its ability to stop the publication of this report but couldn’t succeed. Despite China’s objections to the report, the UNO has adopted and accepted it officially, and further actions are awaited.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights fundamentals declares that all people possess human rights and fundamental freedoms that governments must ensure and protect. As per the report published in The Guardian, the US and many countries have said the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, the destruction of mosques and communities, and forced abortion and sterilization amount to genocide. However, the OHCHR report doesn’t mention the word ‘genocide’. “ There is an enormous risk to believers of all faiths inside China” (Michael R.Pompeo, Secretary of State, USA). Indeed, this report indicates that China is carrying the stains of human rights violations.
Human Rights is a dynamic concept at the core of international law and international relations. These represent fundamental values common to all cultures and are required to be promoted and protected in every civilized society. Hence, these rights must be promoted and protected globally, and every country’s realization of human rights should be the goal. Some international conventions and treaties promote and protect human rights worldwide. The international law of human rights is the outcome of an evolving process where the responsibility of countries derived from their sovereignty has been connected with one of the international community’s fundamental values, especially after World War II.