Allegations that China is overseeing the forced labor of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang are credible and convincing, a UN slavery expert found.
In a report to the UN General Assembly, Tomoya Obokata, the special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, said it was “reasonable to conclude” that forced labor was taking place in far western China, where activists say more than one million ethnic minority Muslims have been held in internment camps.
Obokata said in that report, released Wednesday, that there was evidence of forced labor within the regional system of vocational skills education and training centers and a poverty alleviation program that transfers surplus farm workers to other work.
While such programs created employment and income for ethnic minorities, as the government claimed, evidence indicated that in many cases the work was “involuntary,” the report said.
In addition, given the nature and extent of the powers exercised over workers during forced labour, including excessive surveillance, violent living and working conditions, restrictions on movement through internment, threats, physical and/or sexual violence, and other inhuman or degrading treatment, cases may amount to slavery as a crime against humanity, which deserves further independent analysis,” Obokata said.
Obokata said he reached his conclusion “on the basis of an independent review of available information,” including victim testimony, academic research and government reports.
The rapporteur’s findings come after the United States, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom have imposed sanctions on officials and companies in recent years for alleged human rights violations in the region.
Alim Osman, president of the Uyghur Association of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, welcomed the UN report.
“We’ve been telling the world for years that China uses Uyghur slavery as an essential tool [that is] enabling the Chinese economy and turning the ongoing Uyghur genocide into a profitable venture,” Osman told Al Jazeera.
“It is a relief to see the United Nations finally recognizing the extent to which these atrocities are taking place. Now tangible action is needed to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for these crimes based on these recent findings.”
Fatimah Abdulghafur, a Uyghur activist based in Sydney, Australia, described the report as a “good start”.
“The UN report cannot change or stop the infernal situation of Uyghurs in Chinese-occupied East Turkestan, but this does not mean that the report is useless,” Abdulghafur told Al Jazeera, referring to Xinjiang as many Uyghurs use. prefer. . “The UN report is an official record of documenting the Uyghur/East Turkestan crisis.”
China has denied allegations of human rights abuses, including genocide, and has credited its “vocational education and training centers” with reducing violent extremism and poverty.
On Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Obokata of believing misinformation, abusing his authority and serving as a “political tool for anti-Chinese forces.”
“The Chinese government follows a people-centered development philosophy and attaches great importance to protecting workers’ rights and interests,” Wang said at a regular news conference.
“We protect the equal right of workers of all ethnic groups to seek employment, participate in economic and social life and share in the benefits of socio-economic progress. Some forces are manipulating Xinjiang-related matters and fabricating disinformation about ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang.”
In his report, Obokata also highlighted the persistence of domestic slavery in the Gulf States, Brazil and Colombia, and traditional slavery in Mauritania, Mali and Niger.
He said forced or child marriages remain a concern in many countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, India, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bolivia, Colombia and Honduras.