UN Xinjiang report points to possible crimes against humanity

The Xinjiang report was released minutes before the end of the UN human rights chief's 4-year mandate. © Keystone/ Valentin Flauraud

The United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva has found “credible evidence” of torture and sexual violence against the Uyghur minority in western China. The Chinese government has rejected the findings calling them a “farce”.

This content was published on September 2, 2022

The “extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of Uyghurs and other Muslims in the Xinjiang region may constitute crimes against humanity, the outgoing U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a long-awaited reportExternal link released on Wednesday. The report doesn't mention “genocide” – a term which has been used by the United States. 

The 48-page report was published a few minutes before Bachelet’s four-year term ended. Bachelet has faced criticism from some diplomats and rights groups for being too soft on China. Over a year ago, she promised a report on the human rights situation in Xinjiang following evidence documented by several media and NGOs.

Reuters reported last month that China had asked Bachelet to bury the report, according to a Chinese letter that was confirmed by diplomats.

Bachelet confirmed having received the letter, which she said was signed by about 40 other states. In her last press conference as UN human rights chief last Thursday, Bachelet said she wouldn’t withhold publication despite the pressure.

‘A farce’

The UN Human Rights Office said that “serious human rights violations have been committed” in Xinjiang in the context of the Chinese government's application of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism' strategies. People interviewed by the UN say they were restrained and beaten and some claim to have been raped.

“There are credible indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive enforcement of family planning policies since 2017,” the office said. 

The report noted that a lack of government data “makes it difficult to draw conclusions on the full extent of current enforcement of these policies and associated violations of reproductive rights.”

China immediately denied the allegations, issuing a 131-page response to the “so-called Xinjiang-related assessment”. The report was based on an assumption of guilt, uses false information, and is a farce planned by the United States, Western nations and anti-China forces, said Liu Yuyin, spokesperson for China’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, in a statement on its websiteExternal link.

Bachelet called on the Chinese government to take prompt steps to release all those detained in training centers, prisons or detention facilities.

Future for UN human rights office

Switzerland welcomed the publication of the report. In a tweet posted on Thursday, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs wrote that "Switzerland expects China to fully implement" the UN human rights office's recommendations, in particular to end all coercive and discriminatory measures against minorities in Xinjiang and to release all arbitrarily detained individuals. It also highlighted the importance for UN working groups to carry out unrestricted country visits to China.

Rights groups have accused Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced labour in internment camps. Several governments including the US have placed sanctions on China over the allegations of human rights abuse, which some labeled as genocide.

While many of the findings were not new, Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA writes that the report brings the “seal of the UN to the accusations”.

“This report paves the way for serious and tangible action by member states, UN agencies and companies,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress.

Human Rights Watch called the report ground-breaking but questioned the timing of its release.

“Frankly to issue the report as she's walking out the door minimises the report,” Kenneth Roth at Human Rights Watch told Reuters, before it was released. “By issuing and running she is giving up, she's not doing anything with it, (she is) just kind of dropping it into the bin and leaving the office.”

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has not named a successor to Bachelet.

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Weekly top stories

Keep up to date with the best stories from SWI on a range of topics, straight into your mailbox.


The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.