Lawyer criticises UN report’s failure to call Uyghur oppression ‘genocide’

Show caption A guard in a tower around a detention facility in Xinjiang Uyghur region in China, March 2021. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP China Lawyer criticises UN report’s failure to call Uyghur oppression ‘genocide’ Sir Geoffrey Nice QC says outgoing human rights chief’s report on China makes it easier for international community to do nothing Geneva Abdul @GenevaAbdul Thu 1 Sep 2022 20.27 BST Share on Facebook

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The UN’s failure to mention the word genocide in its report alleging serious human rights violations by China against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province is an “astonishing” lapse, according to a leading British human rights lawyer.

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

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

The outgoing UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet. Photograph: Pierre Albouy/Reuters

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, formerly a lead prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and chair for the UK-based Uyghur Tribunal, described the report as “better than nothing, or a very small step forward. But no more than that.”

In 2021, the independent and unofficial UK-based Uyghur Tribunal led by Nice found Uyghur people living in Xinjiang province have been subjected to crimes against humanity directed by the Chinese state that amount to an act of genocide.

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

“Those states could then do nothing, expressing hope or even belief that the PRC would have taken note of the report and would start acting with more regard to human rights.”

As the United States and several democratic lawmakers around the world have denounced China’s actions as genocide, it’s astonishing, said Nice, that genocide is not mentioned in the report.

People inside the ‘Artux city vocational skills education training service center’ in Xinjiang, 2018. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

“If Bachelet did not agree with any of these determinations, she owed survivors, victims, bereaved and even those doing their best to determine the truth a duty to say why not,” said Nice. “Bachelet saying nothing makes it easier for states to say the matter is not proved and so nothing need be done.”

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

Over the past five years, China has imprisoned an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and other minority groups in internment camps which it terms training centres. There are still thought to be hundreds of thousands still incarcerated.

The Chinese government has denied repeated claims 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 “disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces” which “wantonly smears and slanders China”.

Rahima Mahmut, the executive director at Stop Uyghur Genocide, a UK grassroots campaign, said she was disappointed the UN has not “called this what it is: genocide”.

“The genocide taking place in my homeland is a threat to my people’s existence, but also to human rights globally,” wrote Mahmut, who is also UK director at the World Uyghur Congress. “The international community, from political leaders to corporations, can no longer claim ignorance; failure to act now is wilful complicity.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs, run by members of the Commons and Lords, though it has no official status within parliament, said they “remain disappointed in the shortcomings of the report – which makes no mention of 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 passed motion, however, did not compel the government to act. And when the Biden administration declared a genocide in Xinjiang, the UK refused to follow suit.