Uyghur activists and exiles hoped that a long-delayed UN report on China’s alleged human rights abuses would make it impossible for the world to ignore their plight.
Uyghur activists and exiles hoped that a long-delayed United Nations report on China’s alleged human rights abuses would prevent the world from ignoring their plight.
On Thursday, they faced a less decisive outcome: a report backing up allegations of systematic abuse by China but not using the word “genocide,” signaling a long battle lies ahead.
Minutes before stepping down as UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet released a 46-page “final assessment” documenting what she called China’s possible “crimes against humanity” over the years.
The text, strongly opposed by Beijing, contained serious accusations of mass detentions, torture, sexual abuse and forced medical procedures against China’s Muslim and Uyghur minorities in the Xinjiang region.
For Norwegian activist Abduveli Ayup, it was a “very emotional moment,” a rehab after years of being walled in by Beijing’s vociferous denials.
It was a statement to the skeptics that “yes, it really happened,” he said.
“It’s really important.”
– “Real action is needed” –
Many Uyghurs counted on Bachelet to be their protector, believing that her past experience would make her sympathetic to their plight.
The former president of Chile was herself a political prisoner, tortured and forced to leave the country.
Her father died speaking out against the regime of military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Importantly, the UN report did not declare the alleged crimes as genocide, an accusation that could destroy China’s relations with much of the world.
For many Uighurs, this was only a partial victory.
“We hoped Bachelet would be the voice of the Uyghurs,” said Salih Khudayar, a Uyghur-American who campaigns for the independence of Xinjiang, also known as “East Turkistan.”
“But, on the contrary, she remained silent and tried to appease the Chinese government.”
Like many others, Khudayar suspects that intense behind-the-scenes lobbying from China has led to the report being heavily watered down, calling into question the integrity of the UN itself.
Saddam Abdusalam was not surprised. A young Australian Uyghur whose wife and young child were trapped in China until recently, Abdusalam never really believed that the UN or its reports would make a difference.
“There have already been many reports of what is happening in Xinjiang,” he told AFP, pointing to years of revelations that failed to stop the abuse and faced denial from China.
“Many Uighurs have false hopes. How can the UN or the rest of the world help?” he asked. “We need real action.”
– “Humanity is still alive” –
For others, the UN can still redeem itself.
Born from the ashes of World War II and the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, the UN Bachelet Office for Human Rights was created to ensure that history does not repeat itself.
Tahir Imin, an activist and academic, said the UN could do more sooner, but he thinks half a step is better than nothing at all.
It is “a signal that humanity is still alive,” he said, expressing his hope that leaders will now see the report and feel spurred to action.
Above all, he wants what is happening in Xinjiang to end, no matter what label is given to him.
“I want my mom, two brothers, my sisters-in-law, uncles and aunts who are in jail for their identity and relationship with me to get out of jail,” he told AFP.
“(I wish) my ex-wife, my daughter and everyone else could see the light of the bright sun, take a free breath and hear my voice.”