US says China must be 'held to account' after UN report on Xinjiang abuse

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© Ng Han Guan, AP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that a long-awaited UN report on human rights violations in China's Xinjiang province reaffirmed Washington's view that Beijing is committing "genocide" against the Uyghurs.

Blinken said that the United States "welcomes" the "important" report, released minutes before UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet – who was strongly criticised by Washington for a recent visit to China – left office.

"This report deepens and reaffirms our grave concern regarding the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that PRC government authorities are perpetrating against Uyghurs," he said in a statement, referring to the People's Republic of China.

"We will continue to hold the PRC to account and call on the PRC to release those unjustly detained, account for those disappeared, and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Tibet and across the PRC," he said.

The landmark UN report detailed a string of rights violations including torture and forced labor against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities, infuriating Beijing.

It said China may have committed "crimes against humanity" but stopped short of calling its treatment of the Uyghurs "genocide," an accusation made since early 2021 by the United States and since embraced by legislatures in several other Western nations.

Human rights groups have accused China of sweeping a million or more people from the minority groups into detention camps where many have said they were tortured, sexually assaulted, and forced to abandon their language and religion.

The camps were just one part of what the rights organisations have called a ruthless campaign against extremism in the far western province of Xinjiang that also included draconian birth control policies and all-encompassing restrictions on people's movement.

>> Torture, forced abortions: Key allegations in UN report on Xinjiang

The assessment from the Geneva-based UN human rights office largely corroborated earlier reporting by researchers, advocacy groups and the news media, and it added the weight of the world body to the conclusions.

Its release prompted a furious riposte from Beijing, which denounced the assessment as a fabrication cooked up by Western nations.

“The assessment is a patchwork of false information that serves as political tools for the US and other Western countries to strategically use Xinjiang to contain China," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. "It again shows that the UN Human Rights Office has been reduced to an enforcer and accomplice of the US and other Western countries.”

Other countries welcomed the report, which had become caught up in a tug-of-war between China and major Western nations as well as human rights groups that have criticised the repeated delays in releasing the document.

Japan, which has recently become more vocal in its criticism of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, was among to first to comment, stressing its "concern about human rights conditions in Xinjiang".

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is also the frontrunner in the contest to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, noted that the report “includes harrowing evidence, including first-hand accounts from victims, that shames China in the eyes of the international community.”

Human Rights Watch said the report laid a solid foundation for further UN action to establish accountability for the abuses.

“Never has it been so important for the UN system to stand up to Beijing, and to stand with victims,” said John Fisher, the deputy director of global advocacy for the group.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)