The United Nations insisted Thursday it was still pushing for accountability for abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, after rights groups accused it of inaction.

uighur xinjiang
A verified drone shot from 2019 of Uighur prisoners being transferred by train. File photo: Weibo.

“The situation in Xinjiang remains of concern,” the UN rights office told AFP, one year after it published a bombshell report detailing a litany of violations in the province.

“Laws and policies assessed in our report are still in place,” spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani pointed out in an email, stressing that “our 2022 assessment was clear on the need for accountability”.

“We continue to stand by that, publicly and bilaterally.”

The UN’s comments came hours after leading rights groups slammed inaction by the international community, including the UN, in the year since the report was published.

United Nations
The United Nations. Photo: Ashitaka San via Flickr.

The international community has “shied away from the kind of resolute steps needed to advance justice, truth and reparation for victims,” Sarah Brooks, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for China, said in a statement.

The response had been “woefully inadequate”, the rights group said. It singled out UN rights chief Volker Turk for failing to “clearly emphasise the urgent need for accountability for (China’s) alarming violations”.

Possible crimes against humanity

Turk’s predecessor Michelle Bachelet released her long-delayed report on the situation in Xinjiang on August 31, 2022, just minutes before her term ended, after facing significant pressure from Beijing to withhold the document.

Michelle Bachelet
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. File photo: UN.

It detailed a string of violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, urging the world to pay “urgent attention” to the rights situation in the far-western region.

The report — harshly criticised by Beijing — highlighted “credible” allegations of widespread torture, arbitrary detention and violations of religious and reproductive rights.

And it brought UN endorsement to long-running allegations that Beijing had detained more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims and forcibly sterilised women, citing possible crimes against humanity.

But UN Human Rights Council member states last October narrowly voted to reject even holding a debate on its contents.

“UN member countries should not stay silent in the face of crimes against humanity,” Human Rights Watch associate Asia director Maya Wang said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty voiced disappointment at the level of public follow-up from Turk since he took over as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last October.

Urumqi Xinjiang China
Aerial view of Urumqi, Xinjiang, in 2017. Photo: Wikicommons.

Shamdasani however insisted Turk stood by his public commitment “to a longer-term process of engagement with the authorities, including on implementing the recommendations of the report”.

“It is absolutely critical to follow up on the report’s recommendations.”

Since the report was published, the rights office had kept engaged with China on human rights, she added.

“We have encouraged China to disclose information about the many people whose whereabouts remain unknown and/or to investigate any disappearance or possible death if this is the case and communicate to the family.”

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