OHCHR Human Rights Assessment on Xinjiang: Its Objectivity Questionable

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On the 31’st day of August, 2022, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (hereinafter referred OHCHR) issued a document it titled the “OHCHR Assessment of human rights concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China” which it sought to issue to the government of the People’s Republic of China.

A few hours after the OHCHR released the subject document, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mr. Wang Wenbin, in a televised statement, referred to the OHCHR’s document as false, invalid, and rather another way of trying to punch down on the People’s Republic of China.

On the same day the OHCHR document was released, the permanent mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations office at Geneva issued a counter document titled “Fight against terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang: Truth and Facts”, as a way of debunking the claims that had been cited by OHCHR. Someone with an interested in International Relations would therefore term the unfolding of these events as interesting, but also telling.

The Xinjiang question has been a global talk for a long time now. China’s critics especially some West led by the U.S have in recent months been citing Xinjiang to launch attacks against Beijing.

However, in the same spirit, the claims of diminishing transparency by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights office are equally piling up. As to credibility therefore, there’s growing retraction of the same in many people.

The question of human rights raises eyebrows, and often has unsettling repercussions when global actors get involved. This makes the subject fragile and calls for conclusive care to detail when dealing with claims. Among the objectives of OHCHR is to speak out objectively in the face of human rights violations worldwide. In dispensing the cited objective, the OHCHR is required to act in a way that isn’t influenced by any opinions, or partisan. Whether the OHCHR was objective in its assessment, is to be answered by its very report and arguably, by asking ourselves why is OHCHR not investigating other human rights violations where the US is mentioned?

The fact that OHCHR released its Xinjiang report against advice of more than 60 countries and close to 100 non-governmental organizations that sent a joint letter to OHCHR opposing its release among others reasoning OHCHR office was being politicized, this should ring warning bells!

China, has consistently maintained that the OHCHR has overtime been swayed to Western interests, specifically the United States of America, than to the collective interests of the rest of its members. Some of the OHCHR actions to suggest so, have in recent years been tested with the incidents in claims of human rights abuse by US led coalition forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, NATO led forces in Libya among others. Also, claims of untold human rights violation by US forces in foreign prisons and detention centers such as in Guantanomo Bay cannot be ignored. Also, OHCHR has been silent when it comes to open secret of apartheid and occupational Israel forces in Palestine’s Gaza. In this case we can ask: OHCHR is well aware of said claims. Why are they silent with no single official investigation done in said areas if they are neutral? Cob web of politics? Has OHCHR become so political that it only carries investigations with political lenses? These questions cannot be ignored especially that China is clearly accusing OHCHR of being politically influenced by Washington and some Western capitals.

In 2019, the US angrily announced it was revoking and or denying visas to International Criminal Court prosecutors involved in investigating actions of alleged US troops crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. Then US secretary of State Mike Pompeo further threatened that Washington would take further steps like economic sanctions should ICC go ahead with its investigations.

Further, in the OHCHR’s report, the word “may” was repeatedly used. The auxiliary verb ‘may’ is often used interchangeably with ‘might’, which directs to uncertainty. The OHCHR was consistent with using the said word with most of the key claims of human rights violations by the China. Human Rights violation claims are so contentious that such claims on an international scale can spur unprecedented consequences. The OHCHR made a case of uncertainty, that even the said office, wasn’t sure of the claims they cited.

In the wake of modern terrorism, it’s important that each society establishes practical measures to curb the terrorist activities. The struggle against terrorism become more challenging when the alleged terrorist are on domestic soil. The OHCHR’s Assessment is typical of playing global politics, an ideology it’s not bound to take part.

It has come off to play the religious oppression card to advance anti-China agenda, arguably to control China’s growing global influence. China has consistently showed a revolutionary method of curbing extremism in which it has established Vocational training and education centers in Xinjiang, where some of the culprits are taken through a reasonable time to overturn the dangerous mentality before being reintroduced into society with life changing positive skills.

As president Obama once observed, in a 2001 issue of the Hyde Park Herald, where he described terrorism as “tragedy,” “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…” Therefore, China devoting more by establishing re-education centres to address extremism should not be politicised.

Therefore, condemning China for introducing re-education centres is a keen to being incentive to the tragedies experienced in counties of Urumqi (2009), Shache (2014), Baicheng (2015), Luntai (2014), Shanshan (2013), Moyu (2016), among others.

It’s indeed an appreciated tenet of International Human Rights Law for countries to observe legally and demonstrably justifiable human rights limitation practices as they encounter threats. But while the OHCHR drafted its report to which it isn’t certain of the truthfulness of its allegations evidenced by constant use of the word “may”, it was important to objectively, as one of its objectives suggestions, to seek out the national interest successes met by China during its fight against extremism. Going forward, perhaps OHCHR will have to revisit its modus operandi and seek out to show its riddled transparency in execution of its duties, otherwise, this leaves OHCHR’s impartiality including its Xinjiang report questionable in eyes right thinking people.

Alan Collins Mpewo, is a Lawyer and a Research Fellow, Sino-Uganda Research Centre.


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