More than 60 Uyghur groups call on UN genocide prevention office to conduct assessment after OHCHR falls short of recognising genocide in Xinjiang
By MEE staff
Uyghur groups have criticised the United Nations’ recent report chronicling the situation in Xinjiang – in which it concluded that Beijing was guilty of “crimes of humanity” – saying it was conceding to pressure from China by not labelling it a genocide.
“It’s a victory for China because the ongoing genocide and other crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples were watered down to mere ‘human rights violations’ to accommodate China and prevent the UN’s Genocide Convention from being formally applied,” Salih Hudayar, prime minister of the East Turkistan Government in Exile, told Middle East Eye.
The 45-page report issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – which took a year in the making – detailed a string of rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s far-western region.
“Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR in the context of the government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-‘extremism’ strategies,” the UN report said.
“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups… may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”
It called on Beijing to immediately release “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty” and undertake a “full review” of its laws on domestic security and repeal all discriminatory laws.
The allegations have been vehemently rejected by China, while the US welcomed the report saying that it “deepens and reaffirms our grave concern” regarding the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
However, the UN report stopped short of calling China’s actions in Xinjiang “genocide” – as claimed by the US, and the parliaments of several western nations including Canada, the UK, and France.
“In a final insult to Uyghur survivors, the report fails to mention the word genocide a single time,” Rahima Mahmut, a UK-based Uyghur campaigner and director of the World Uyghur Congress, told Politico.
“You have to wonder what the UN is for if it can’t admit what is staring them plainly in the face.”
The ETGE’s Hudayar told MEE that “the global East Turkistani / Uyghur diaspora community are very disappointed in the weakness of the report and are outraged by the report’s failure to acknowledge the ongoing genocide of our people”.
“Nonetheless, we hope that this report will lead to more stronger actions by the international community.”
The East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE) was established in Washington DC as an official government in exile in 2004 and is pushing for an independent state in China’s northwest, the area known officially as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Members of the ETGE represent more than a dozen organisations from among the Uyghur and East Turkistani diaspora, according to their website.
Uyghur groups call on countries to take action
Michelle Bachelet, whose tenure as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights came to an end minutes after the report was published, had been under pressure from opposing sides – rights groups calling for its release and China pressing against a release.
“I said that I would publish it before my mandate ended and I have,” Bachelet told the Agence France-Presse news agency on Thursday. “The politicisation of these serious human rights issues by some states did not help.”
Earlier this year, Bachelet visited China and was accused during a press conference of promoting Beijing’s narrative and accepting its justification for the crackdown.
But the report dismissed China’s narrative, saying “serious human rights violations have been committed in [Xinjiang] in the context of the government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-‘extremism’ strategies”.
Still, Hudayar says the report does not do enough to refute Beijing’s counter-terrorism justifications for its crackdown in Xinjiang, and that’s one reason the “report is weak and doesn’t do justice to the people of East Turkistan”.
Rayhan Asat, an Uyghur activist and human rights lawyer, described the report as “conservative” in its assessment in an interview with The Guardian, but added that it was sophisticated, detailed, and gave “voice to victims and their families”.
Following the report’s release, more than 60 Uyghur groups called on the international community to take action and call for formal independent investigations into human rights abuses by China.
In a statement, the groups called on the UN Human Rights Council to form a Commission of Inquiry into the issue, and also called on the UN Office on Genocide Prevention to conduct an assessment.
“The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has waited far too long to deliver its report. The truth of China’s atrocities has once again been documented, and there can be no shying away from the obligation to act,” Rushan Abbas, Campaign for Uyghurs executive director, said in the statement.
“Stopping genocide was a foundational purpose of the UN, and it must be upheld now.”
Middle East Eye