Human Rights

UN rights chief vows to keep focus on Xinjiang abuses

By Caravanserai and AFP

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk speaks during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 9. [Fabrice Coffrini/AFP]

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk speaks during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 9. [Fabrice Coffrini/AFP]

The new United Nations (UN) rights chief Friday (December 9) said he would follow up on bombshell findings by his predecessor of serious rights abuses and possible crimes against humanity in China's Xinjiang region.

Volker Turk, who took over as UN high commissioner for human rights in October, said the report released by outgoing commissioner Michelle Bachelet on August 31 was "very important".

"It has highlighted very serious human rights concerns. And my focus is on following up on the recommendations that are contained in the report," he told a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Bachelet published the long-awaited report just minutes before her term ended, after facing significant pressure from Beijing to withhold the document, and also from Western countries and rights groups to release it.

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

The report highlighted "credible" allegations of widespread torture, arbitrary detention and violations of religious and reproductive rights.

And it brought UN endorsement to long-running allegations by campaigners and others, who accuse Beijing of detaining more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims and forcibly sterilising women.

China, which insists it is running vocational training centres in the region to counter extremism, launched an all-out offensive to convince countries to dismiss the report.

And it thwarted an unprecedented effort in October to put the report on the UN Human Rights Council agenda to be debated.

Asked how he would proceed on the matter, Turk stressed Friday that "we will, and I will personally, continue engaging with the authorities.

"I am very determined to do so.

"Hope springs eternal for changes."

Just last month, cybersecurity researchers said they had found evidence of Chinese spyware in Uighur-language apps that can track the location and harvest the data of Uighurs living in China and abroad.

The spyware enabled hackers to collect sensitive data including a user's location, contacts, call logs, text messages and files, the report said, and could also take photos and record calls.

Researchers said the apps could have been used to detect evidence of religious extremism or separatism, for which Uighurs have been imprisoned, some for decades.

For years, China has engaged in mass monitoring of Uighurs in Xinjiang, creating a province-wide surveillance platform that vacuums Uighurs' personal data from their phones and tracks their movements through facial recognition.

This week, academics and researchers also revealed "massive and expanding links" between the car industry and abuses of Uighurs' rights in Xinjiang, following a six-month investigation.

The Chinese government has deliberately shifted mining and raw material processing and auto part manufacturing into Xinjiang, the team alleged after analysing publicly available documents.

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