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U.N. Outlines Possible Crimes Against Humanity in Xinjiang

A blistering new human rights assessment has been released after months of delays.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
Then-Chilean President Michelle Bachelet addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
Then-Chilean President Michelle Bachelet addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
Then-Chilean President Michelle Bachelet addresses the United Nations General Assembly at the organization’s headquarters in New York on Sept. 20, 2017. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following a blistering U.N. human rights report on Xinjiang, China; Afghanistan after one year of Taliban rule; and efforts to protect Zaporizhzhia.

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U.N. Report Details Beijing’s Abuses in Xinjiang

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following a blistering U.N. human rights report on Xinjiang, China; Afghanistan after one year of Taliban rule; and efforts to protect Zaporizhzhia.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


U.N. Report Details Beijing’s Abuses in Xinjiang

China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity, according to a blistering United Nations report published just minutes before the organizations top human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, ended her term on Wednesday night.

Chinese officials have long worked to quash the much-awaited assessment, which builds on years of evidence of Beijing’s brutal crackdown on as many as 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. After almost a year of delays that frustrated activists and human rights organizations, many experts feared the report would never see the light of day—especially after Bachelet hinted at more delays last week.

In the 46-page report, the U.N. human rights office pulled on a trove of documentation and interviews to allege grave abuses, including torture, forced medical treatment, and sexual violence. Beijing has engaged in “far-reaching, arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms, in violation of international norms and standards,” the report said.

The report “lays bare the scale and severity of the human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. “The inexcusable delay in releasing this report casts a stain on the [U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights’s] record, but this should not deflect from its significance.”

Once the document was public, experts said its conclusions helped explain why Chinese officials were so adamant on blocking the release. The U.N. had previously sent Beijing a draft copy per U.N. procedure, at which point Chinese representatives responded with “substantial input,” Bachelet said.

“Why was Beijing so determined to quash Bachelets U.N. report on its persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Because she found it ‘may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,’” tweeted Kenneth Roth, former executive director of Human Rights Watch.

In a 130-page-long response, Beijing criticized the U.N.’s assessment and said it contradicted the Human Rights Office’s mission. “The so-called ‘assessment’ distorts China’s laws and policies, wantonly smears and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs,” the statement said.

The report’s release will help shape Bachelet’s human rights legacy, which has been marred in recent months over her reluctance to condemn Beijing. After embarking on a rare trip to China in May—she was the first U.N. human rights chief to visit in 17 years—she was widely denounced after she appeared to echo Beijing’s language and her trip fueled new propaganda. Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watchs China director, called her visit a “toothless dialogue.”

The United States, which has previously designated China’s abuses a genocide, said it was troubled by Chinas attempts to shape her trip. “We are concerned the conditions Beijing authorities imposed on the visit did not enable a complete and independent assessment of the human rights environment in the PRC, including in Xinjiang, where genocide and crimes against humanity are ongoing,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

In the face of fierce criticism, Bachelet announced in June that she would not seek another term. Her deputy, Nada Youssef Al Nashif, will stand in for her until U.N. chief António Guterres nominates a successor.


What We’re Following Today

Afghanistan, one year on. The Taliban celebrated the first anniversary of their rule with a flashy parade of military vehicles, helicopters, and fireworks. But not everyone is celebrating: Across Afghanistan, the group’s return to power has shattered lives and fueled desperation, as FP’s Stefanie Glinski reported for Foreign Policy. 

“We’re all stuck in limbo. Some people have become suicidal. I have panic attacks, mental breakdowns, and a lot of anxiety, something I didn’t experience before,” Zaki Rasoli, a 28-year-old Afghan mixed martial artist, told Glinski. “You know, life was good in Kabul before. Fulfilling. Now, there’s no hope left.”

Protecting Zaporizhzhia. A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has touched down in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, to inspect the Russian-occupied nuclear plant near the city. Their long-awaited visit comes as the European Union prepares to send millions of iodine pills to Ukraine to help protect nearby residents from potential radiation.

“My mission is a technical mission,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told reporters. “It’s a mission that seeks to prevent a nuclear accident.”


Keep an Eye On

Kishida’s nuclear walk back. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has expressed his interest in minimizing Japans dependence on nuclear energy, just a week after he said the country would ramp up its use. “Our policy of reducing reliance on nuclear power as much as possible has not changed,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Britain’s new tradition? When Britains next prime minister is announced next week, Queen Elizabeth II is expected to appoint the new leader in Scotland—not London, where she appointed the country’s past 14 prime ministers.


Wednesday’s Most Read

• “Gorbachev’s Disputed Legacyby Vladislav M. Zubok

• “Mikhail Gorbachev’s Pizza Hut Thanksgiving Miracleby Paul Musgrave

• “You Have No Idea How Bad Europe’s Energy Crisis Isby Christina Lu


Odds and Ends 

One American city wanted to commemorate its 150th anniversary with an exciting ceremony: finally opening up a time capsule that was hidden and buried 50 years ago. The trouble is that nobody in Sheldon, Iowa, knows exactly where the capsule is, upending the organizers’ original plans and forcing them to recalibrate their celebration.

“We still have every intention of finding it and digging it up,” Ashley Nordahl, director of Sheldon’s Chamber of Commerce, told the Associated Press. “It’s just a little more involved than what we originally had planned.”

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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