US ‘deeply disturbed’ by reports of systematic rape in China’s Xinjiang camps

The below article was published by The Guardian, photo credit: Greg Baker/ AFP / Getty Images

UK under renewed pressure to impose sanctions in wake of ‘clearly evil acts’ against Uighur and Muslim women

a detention camp in xinjiang
 Up to a million Uighurs and ethnic minorities are believed to have been detained in Xinjiang. The US has described reports of rape and sexual abuse as shocking. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

The United States has said it is “deeply disturbed” and the UK government has come under further pressure to impose sanctions following reports of systematic rape and sexual torture of women detained in China’s Xinjiang camps.

A BBC report on Wednesday detailed allegations of rape, sexual abuse and torture of ethnic Uighur and other Muslim women, based on interviews with several former detainees and a guard. The interviewees told the BBC “they experienced or saw evidence of an organised system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture”.

A US state department spokesperson said such “atrocities shock the conscience and must be met with serious consequences” and demanded China allow “immediate and independent investigations by international observers” into the rape allegations.

“We are deeply disturbed by reports, including firsthand testimony, of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang,” the spokesperson said, reiterating US accusations that China had committed “crimes against humanity and genocide” in Xinjiang.

The UK Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams said the report showed “clearly evil acts” and called for China to allow independent investigators into the area as the government came under pressure from MPs of all sides to sanction Chinese officials.

Theshadow Foreign Office minister Stephen Kinnock said the reports were “a scar on the conscience of the world” and demanded the UK follow he US example and impose sanctions, saying it knew the names of the officials responsible for the Xinjiang detention camps.

The senior Tory Sir Iain Duncan Smith also urged sanctions citing “a litany of terrible, terrible abuse, rape … concentration camps, people being sterilised, people being maltreated, abused, tortured. This sounds like something of 75 years ago, but it isn’t, it’s today.”

He added: “Where are the Magnitsky sanctions on the individuals? We’ve got all the evidence that’s necessary.”

The pressure on Adams suggests ministers will face a sizeable backbench rebellion on Tuesday when the government will again oppose plans to give the UK courts a new power to determine if genocide is occurring. Adams said he was looking instead to give parliament a new oversight over genocide.

The BBC report said it was unable to independently verify the women’s stories, which included horrific accounts of sexual assault and torture, and the forcing of some women to strip and handcuff others before they were left alone with Han men. However, key details and travel documents matched timelines and available satellite imagery, and corresponded with numerous other accounts from former detainees.

Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, echoed US calls for international observers, including the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, “to be given immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang at the earliest opportunity”,” she said.

“Australia has been consistent in raising our significant concerns with the human rights abuses in Xinjiang. These latest reports of systematic torture and abuse of women are deeply disturbing and raise serious questions regarding the treatment of Uighurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”

China has consistently denied allegations of human rights abuses and genocide in Xinjiang, despite mounting evidence of mass internment, suspected forced labour programmes, indoctrination, forced sterilisation of women, extensive digital and in person surveillance, and suppression of religious and cultural activities. China says the camps are vocational training centres designed to counter extremism.

On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin accused the BBC of making a “false report” which was “wholly without factual basis”.

He claimed the women interviewed were “actors disseminating false information”, and said China had released multiple reports showing “people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang live in peace and contentment, unity and harmony, and that all their legal rights are effectively guaranteed”.

Among the reports referred to by Wang is a white paper on Xinjiang ,which last year admitted for the first time that more than 1.2 million people had been sent through its “vocational training” programmes.

The BBC revelations horrified the global Uighur community, many of whom have family members detained or suspected to be detained in the camps. Recent data leaks have shown that contact with overseas relatives has been used by Chinese authorities to justify detaining a Uighur person in Xinjiang.

“I have a mother, a wife, sisters, aunts and grandmothers. The rape of any woman breaks my heart and makes my blood boil,” said Salih Hudayar, the US-based prime minister of a self-declared government-in-exile for East Turkistan.

“The systematic rape of Uighur and other Turkic women are part of China’s ongoing genocide against East Turkistan’s people. We urge the international community to support our case against China at the international criminal court.”

In December the ICC rejected an application to investigate claims of genocide in Xinjiang, saying it was unable to act because the alleged crimes occurred in China, which is not a party to the court and so is outside its jurisdiction.

The Biden administration has endorsed a declaration by the outgoing Trump administration in its final days of office that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang.

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