Lawyer criticizes UN report for not calling Uyghur oppression ‘genocide’

The failure of the UN to mention the word genocide in its report alleging serious human rights abuses by China against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province is a ‘stunning’ error, says a prominent lawyer British human rights.

The 45-page report by outgoing UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet landed minutes before the end of her term on Wednesday, outlining allegations of torture, including forced medical procedures, as well as sexual violence against Uyghur Muslims.

The report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that the “arbitrary and discriminatory” detention of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim groups “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity “, but does not mention the genocide. .

Outgoing UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
Outgoing UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. Photograph: Pierre Albouy/Reuters

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, former lead prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and president of the Uyghur tribunal based in the UK, described the report as “better than nothing, or a very small step forward. But no more only that.”

In 2021, the independent and unofficial UK-based Uyghur tribunal, led by Nice, found that Uyghurs living in Xinjiang province had been victims of Chinese state-directed crimes against humanity that constituted an act of genocide.

“This report could be dangerous in the long run if it allows countries that would prefer not to act on the People’s Republic of China’s human rights abuses to say something like ‘while things in Xinjiang are far from ideal, they have not reached a level requiring international intervention,” Nice said.

“These states could then do nothing, expressing the hope or even the belief that the PRC would have taken note of the report and would begin to act in a more human rights conscious way.”

While the United States and several Democratic lawmakers around the world have denounced China’s actions as genocide, it is surprising, Nice said, that genocide was not mentioned in the report.

People inside the
People inside the “Artux City Vocational Training Service Center” in Xinjiang, 2018. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

“If Bachelet disagreed with any of these determinations, she owed survivors, victims, bereaved and even those who were doing their best to determine the truth a duty to say why not,” Nice said. “Bachelet saying nothing makes it easier for states to say the case is unproven and therefore nothing can be done.”

In May, the UN rights chief embarked on a six-day trip to China amid warnings that she risked lasting damage to the credibility of her office if she continued her visit to Xinjiang. In June, she came under fire as academics across Europe accused her of ignoring or contradicting academic findings on abuses in Xinjiang with her statements about the region.

Over the past five years, China has imprisoned around 1 million Uyghurs and other minority groups in internment camps it calls training centers. It is still believed that there are hundreds of thousands of beings still incarcerated.

The Chinese government has denied repeated allegations that Uyghur Muslims have been held in detention or re-education camps. In a 121-page counter report, China described the OHCHR’s assessment as “misinformation and fabricated lies by anti-China forces” that “defam and slander China without reason.”

Rahima Mahmut, executive director of Stop Uyghur Genocide, a British grassroots campaign, said she was disappointed that the UN had not “called it like that: genocide”.

“The genocide taking place in my homeland is a threat to the existence of my people, but also to human rights around the world,” wrote Mahmut, who is also the UK director of the World Uyghur Congress. “The international community, from political leaders to businesses, can no longer claim ignorance; not acting now is willful complicity.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Uyghurs, led by members of the Commons and Lords, despite having no official status in parliament, said it “remains disappointed by the shortcomings of the report – which makes no mention of the genocide”.

Last year, the UK, alongside the EU, US and Canada, imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials in response to human rights abuses. The following month, British MPs voted to declare that China was committing genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province.

The motion passed did not, however, compel the government to act. And when the Biden administration declared genocide in Xinjiang, the UK refused to follow suit.

Lawyer criticizes UN report for not calling Uyghur oppression ‘genocide’

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