On 30 November the Global Centre joined the permanent missions of the United States and Canada in Geneva, Uyghur Human Rights Project, Word Uyghur Congress, Anti-Slavery International and International Service for Human Rights in hosting an event entitled, “Utilizing the UPR to highlight and respond to ongoing atrocity crimes in the Uyghur Region of China,” at the UN Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
Since 2017 – one year before China’s last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) – the Chinese government has escalated its long-standing persecution of members of the ethnic Uyghur community, as well as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other majority-Muslim and/or Turkic groups under the guise of combating religious extremism and terrorism. Since then numerous UN experts have documented the Chinese government’s role in committing human rights violations and abuses in the Uyghur Region (referred to as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by the government of China). The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights determined in a landmark report that the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and members of other majority-Muslim and/or Turkic groups may constitute crimes against humanity, and that conditions remain in place for serious human rights violations to continue. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery has previously warned that some instances of forced labor of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minority communities may amount to enslavement as a crime against humanity. Furthermore, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has referred the situation in the Uyghur Region to the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.
In the absence of formally mandated discussions on China’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, China’s upcoming UPR review in January 2024 is a timely and important opportunity to strengthen international attention and discuss necessary action to prevent further crimes against humanity. Although the UPR is a lengthy process and typically does not result in immediate action, it is particularly valuable for countries already experiencing atrocities, as it can provide a forum to reflect upon different recommendations for urgent action, give visibility to ongoing crises and confront the concerned state involved in the perpetration of atrocity crimes and shed light on its actions.
This event provided an opportunity for UN member states to better understand the nature, scope and context of ongoing atrocity crimes in the Uyghur Region and the unique added value of the UPR process in addressing continued state-led persecution. The discussion highlighted how existing information and documentation by various UN mechanisms and procedures may be used in the UPR and in subsequent and complementary efforts to mobilize follow-up action. Interventions by expert panelists gave visibility and exposure to the vital work of national civil society and human rights defenders documenting atrocity crimes in the Uyghur Region.