Is OHCHR Human Rights Report on China’s Xinjiang Political?

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On Wednesday 31st, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report in which it accused China of violating human rights of minorities in China’s Xinjiang region. The 45-page report, particularly singled out Uyghur Muslims as victims of its so-called “crimes against humanity.”

China rejected the report arguing it was a plot by the United States (US) and some other anti-China forces in the West to spread anti-China sentiments. Wang Wenbin, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson told press that OHCHR’s report is “totally illegal and invalid,” stressing that “the report is a hodgepodge of misinformation, a political tool used by the West to push its strategy of ‘using Xinjiang to contain China.’”

China has always maintained that there are no rights violation in the region but rather re-education and de-radicalization centres for purposes of countering extremism. Beijing argues that in centres, people are equipped with vocational skills to help them in their daily lives to avert possibility of being lured into committing crimes.

Studies have indicated that on individual level, poverty and terrorism have connections.

President George W. Bush on March 22, 2002, while in Monterrey, Mexico was very clear on this stressing that, “we fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror.”

Also, commenting on September 11th terror attack, then Senator Barack Obama in a Sept. 19, 2001 issue of the Hyde Park Herald, emphasised connection between poverty and terrorism. Describing terrorism as “tragedy,” Obama explained “most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair. … [W]e will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe…,” wrote Obama.

As a president, in his may 2012 address in which he outlined counterterrorism efforts, Obama again showed coloration between poverty and terrorism. “Foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity.  It is fundamental to our national security and it’s fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism,” Obama argued. He stressed that such aid, would create “reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.”

This view is also backed by three prominent German economists at University of Freiburg. Sarah Brockhoff, Tim Krieger and Daniel Meierrieks in their country-level analysis paper “Ties that do not Bind (Directly): The Education-Terrorism Nexus Revisited” found evidence that “education may fuel terrorist activity in the presence of poor political and socio-economic conditions, whereas better education in combination with favorable conditions decreases terrorism.”

With that mind, China’s side that the now closed centres were not for rights violations as China’s critics claim but rather re-education centres meant to help in countering terrorism by equipping people in Xinjiang with necessary skills for successful lives holds.

While the report criticises China for alleged violations of minorities’ human rights, this arguably contradicts words of OHCHR commissioner Michelle Bachelet who shortly after her official visit to Xinjiang region, addressed the media on May 28 2022 and acknowledged that “Violent acts of extremism have a terrible, serious impact on the lives of victims, including those tasked to protect the community.”

Bachelet also praised China’s “Poverty alleviation and the eradication of extreme poverty, 10 years ahead of its target date, are tremendous achievements of China. The introduction of universal health care and almost universal unemployment insurance scheme go a long way in ensuring protection of the right to health and broader social and economic rights.” It is therefore strange that the country Bachelet acknowledged to be making progress in upholding human rights less than 4 months ago is the same country she is accusing.

This way, one cannot ignore China’s concerns that OHCHR report is a political tool used by the West to push its strategy of ‘using Xinjiang to contain China’.

Chinese government statistics indicate that Xinjiang has registered steady development socially and economically. Aware that this has been largely achieved through re-education centres, it is not far-fetched to connect OHCHR Xinjiang report to political games in some western capitals.

Indeed, before OHCHR released its report, more than 60 countries and close to 100 non-governmental organizations sent a joint letter to the office of the OHCHR explaining they were opposed to its release giving reasons among others that OHCHR office was being politicized.

China’s 2020 national census revealed that Xinjiang’s Uygur Autonomous population has been steadily rising in the past seven decades with the region’s population standing at 25.85 million. Of this, ethnic minorities’ population is 14.9 million while the Han ethnic group population was 10.9 million.

In health sector, the people of Xinjiang continue to enjoy long life expectancy. For example, in 2019, life expectancy in Xinjiang jumped from 7.3 years recorded in 2000 to 74.7.

Also, infant mortality rate or the mortality of children bellow five years reduced. Maternal mortality rate reduced from 55.5 per 1,000, 65.4 per 1,000, and 161.4 per 100,000 in 2000 to 6.75 per 1,000, 10.91 per 1,000, and 17.89 per 100,000 in 2020.

In education, the number of those attaining education in Xinjiang region is above that of national. Going by 2020 national census, the average of schooling for persons of 15 and above grew from 9.27 years reported in 2010 to 10.11 years in 2020. This is higher than national average figures which stood at 9.91.

If we compare this with 2010 figures, the number of people with university education rose from 10,613 to 16,536 per 100,000 persons. Those with high school education rose from 11,669 to 13,208.

Within the ethnic Uygur population, figure of people attaining education are also encouraging.  The 2020 national census figures indicated, 8,944 per 100,000 Uygurs had received a university education. This is an increase of 6,540 from the year 2000. The average years in education for those aged 15 and above also grew from 7.06 to 9.19.

With such facts, it really becomes difficulty to simply ignore China’s rejection of OHCHR Xinjiang report branding it political. Sadly, such circumstances leave OHCHR with less trust from international community.

To bring back its trust in the international community, the OHCHR should also investigate and publish reports on claims of arbitrary arrests in foreign prions like Guantanamo Bay where it is alleged that the US holds suspects in dehumanizing conditions. Also, reports raised by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in which he accused the US and allies of committing crimes against humanity should be investigated and reports made public. OHCHR should also actively call for unconditional release of Assange who the US is accusing of revealing their secrets which many human rights activists say is US’ retaliation against Assange who exposed US’ alleged crimes against humanity.

Allawi Ssemanda is a senior research Fellow at Sino-Uganda Research Centre.


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