Five key points from the UN report on human rights violations in Xinjiang

China has committed ‘serious human rights violations’ against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province that may amount to crimes against humanity, outgoing UN human rights commissioner says in a damning and long-awaited report.

Crimes against humanity

The gist of the report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is that the commissioner’s office found credible evidence of torture and other human rights violations that may be “crimes against humanity”.

The report included allegations of people tied hands and feet to a “tiger chair” and beaten, women raped and others held in prolonged solitary confinement. Others appeared to have been drowned in water, as the report described individuals “undergoing interrogations with water poured over their faces”.

Rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have also determined that crimes against humanity are being committed against Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. The UN did not call it genocide, as did the US government and others.


The report was highly critical of the Chinese government’s anti-extremism doctrine, which underpins the crackdown. He said the laws and regulations were vague and ill-defined, open to individual interpretation and blurred the line between indicators of concern and suspected criminality. Both categories also contained a large number of benign acts classified as extremism although unrelated to it, such as having a beard or a social media account.

Such indicators may simply be “the manifestation of personal choice in the practice of Islamic religious beliefs and/or the legitimate expression of opinions”, he said.

Accusations of extremism could result in the referral of people to detention centers at several stages of the investigation process by the police, prosecutors or courts.

Arbitrary detention

The report concluded that there was an acute risk of arbitrary detention and that it was “reasonable to conclude that a pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention occurred in [vocational education and training centre] installations, at least from 2017 to 2019”. He pushed back against Beijing’s claims that the facilities were schools or training centers where participants were free to join and leave. According to the report, these “placements” amounted to a form of deprivation of liberty.

“A deprivation of liberty occurs when a person is detained without their consent,” he said.

“Concordant testimonies obtained by the OHCHR, however, indicate a lack of free and informed consent to placement in the centres; that it is impossible for an individual detained in such a heavily guarded center to leave voluntarily.

Two-thirds of former detainees interviewed by OHCHR said they had been subjected to treatment amounting to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

Forced labor

The report also pushed back against China’s rejection of the forced labor charges, saying they appeared to be discriminatory in nature or effect and involved elements of coercion. He said the work programs were closely linked to the anti-extremism framework and arbitrary detention, which “raises concerns about the extent to which these programs can be fully voluntary.”

Forced drugs and sexual abuse

Detainees were also forced to take medicine or injections with no explanation of what it was. He noted persistent allegations of sexual abuse and violence in the establishments, as well as government denials that often used “personal or sexist attacks” against women reporting allegations.

The report also found that the Chinese government had established a “clear link between the frequency of childbirths and religious ‘extremism'”. He said there were “credible indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive enforcement of family planning policies,” including allegations of forced abortions, contraception and sterilization. He noted that Xinjiang’s sterilization rate was 243 procedures per 100,000 people, compared to a national average of 32.

Five key points from the UN report on human rights violations in Xinjiang

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