UN human rights chief condemns abuses in China’s Xinjiang region


China is restricting basic civil and political freedoms in the name of national security and COVID-19 measures, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Friday, adding to a wave of criticism of the country’s rights record.

“Activists, lawyers and human rights defenders – as well as some foreign nationals – face arbitrary criminal charges, detention or unfair trials,” Ms. Bachelet said in her address to the Human Rights Council during its 46th regular session.

The rights chief also said that under the new National Security Law “more than 600 people are being investigated for participating in various forms of protests In the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”.

But Hong Kong Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng defended the law, telling the Geneva forum that since the national security law was adopted, civil unrest had subsided and residents can enjoy their lawful freedoms.

Referring to China’s Xinjiang region, Bachelet said that given reports about arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced labour, there was a need for a thorough and independent assessment of the situation.

She said she hoped to clinch agreement with Chinese officials about a visit to the country. Louise Arbour was the last UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit China, in September 2005.

Activists and UN experts have said that at least one million Muslim Uyghurs are detained in camps in the western region of Xinjiang. China denies abuses and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.

China hit back on Wednesday at growing criticism by Western powers of its treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet and of citizens in Hong Kong.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said that torture, forced labour and sterilisations are taking place on an “industrial scale” in Xinjiang. France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounced “an institutionalised system of surveillance and repression on a large scale”.

The Biden administration has endorsed a determination by the Trump administration in its final days that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang and has said the United States must be prepared to impose costs on China.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said on Monday that “there has never been so-called genocide, forced labour, or religious oppression in Xinjiang.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)