This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The United Nations lead official for human rights called on Friday for a full and independent investigation of human rights abuses in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, where reports say over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been held in a vast network of internment camps since 2017.
Speaking to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said her office has been working with China without success for over two years to find “mutually agreeable parameters” for a visit to China.
“In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region [XUAR], information that is in the public domain indicates the need for independent and comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation,” Bachelet said on Friday.
Bachelet added that her office is investigating reports of widespread abuses—including arbitrary detention and sexual violence—in the camps, which have been described by China as vocational training centers, though reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in crowded and unsanitary conditions.
Reports indicate that the camps, in which detainees are subjected to political indoctrination by Chinese officials and guards, are used by China as punishment for signs of “extremism,” which authorities say include practicing basic forms of Islam, adhering to cultural traditions, and violating strict family-planning policies.
Speaking to RFA, Dolkun Isa—president of the Germany-based exile World Uyghur Congress—welcomed Bachelet’s call on Friday for an investigation into Chinese rights abuses in Xinjiang.
“And we encourage High Commissioner Bachelet to visit East Turkestan to assess China’s Uyghur genocide with unfettered access,” Isa said, referring to Xinjiang by the name preferred by many Uyghurs for their historic homeland.
Bachelet should be cautious, though, “and refuse any preconditions placed by China on her visit should it materialize, because China will manipulate her visit in order to deny the reality of the Uyghur genocide,” Isa said.
Findings of genocide
The Dutch House of Representatives voted on Thursday to recognize China’s abuses in the XUAR as genocide, becoming the first parliament in Europe to do so as pressure mounts on Western leaders to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
The move followed a similar resolution passed by Canada’s House of Commons last week and an official designation by the U.S. of the situation in the region as genocide in January.
“It is now imperative that the U.N. prioritize this 21st century genocide at the highest level and seriously address it at the U.N. Human Rights Council and U.N. Security Council,” Isa said.
“It’s simply not enough to raise [this issue] once a year at the Human Rights Council and repeatedly accept China’s ill-intentioned and hollow invitation to visit East Turkestan.”
“If ‘Never Again’ means anything to the U.N., U.N. General Secretary Gutierrez should publicly denounce China’s genocide of the Uyghur people and take the lead to stop this 21st century genocide,” Isa said.
“Or the U.N. will be seen in the future as complicit for having taken no meaningful action to stop China’s genocide of the Uyghur people.”