The Biden administration Thursday called on China to immediately cease “atrocities” against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, following a long-delayed report by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet concluding that the treatment of minorities in China’s Xinjiang province may constitute crimes against humanity.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the United States welcomed the report, which she said described “abhorrent human rights treatment of the Uyghur and other minority communities by the People's Republic of China.”
“The report deepens our grave concern regarding the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that China is perpetrating,” she said. “We will call on China to immediately cease committing these atrocities, release those unjustly detained, account for those disappeared and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Tibet and across China.”
Human rights groups have accused China of detaining over 1 million minorities in camps, restricting freedom of movement, and engaging in torture, forced sterilization and sexual violence under the guise of Beijing’s campaign against religious extremism in Xinjiang province.
In her report, Bachelet said Beijing’s crackdown on terrorism and “extremism” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from 2017 to 2019, and possibly beyond, raises concerns under international law.
“The U.N. human rights chief for the first time lays bare the Chinese government’s grave abuses and concludes they may amount to crimes against humanity,” said John Fisher, global advocacy deputy director at Human Rights Watch.
However, some Republicans in the U.S. Congress say Bachelet’s report did not go far enough.
"The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights finally found time to look into one of the most pressing human rights issues of the modern era,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement. "Unfortunately, it did exactly what we expected: downplay the severity of the Chinese Communist Party’s crimes.”
Beijing rejects report
Beijing, which for months had sought to delay the U.N. report, denounced it Thursday.
"It is completely a politicized document that disregards facts, and reveals explicitly the attempt of some Western countries and anti-China forces to use human rights as a political tool,” said Liu Yuyin, spokesperson for the Chinese mission to Geneva, in a statement Thursday.
In a video statement, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, called the report a “fabricated lie.”
“Its purpose definitely is to undermine China’s stability and obstruct China’s development,” he said, adding that the U.N. human rights commissioner should “avoid interfering in China’s internal affairs and should not resign to the politics pressure of a number of Western countries.”
China’s response to the report reveals its approach to global governance, said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center's Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.
“Beijing delayed, stonewalled, misdirected and threatened the U.N. agency every step of the way, and then insulted the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights when the report was finally published,” Daly told VOA. “This has been done as China sought a greater — even a leading — role in global governance based on 'Chinese wisdom.' ”
It is unclear whether the report will pave the way to further investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council and hold those responsible to account, as rights groups have demanded.