A long-awaited report from the United Nations alleges that the Chinese government has committed "serious human rights violations" in its detention of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang.

The 48-page report, which Western diplomats and U.N. officials said had been all but ready for months, was published with just minutes to go in U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet's four-year term.

Xinjiang, China

Guard towers stand on the perimeter wall of the Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng in western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

Drawn from interviews with former detainees at eight separate detention centers in the region, its authors suggest "serious" human rights violations have been committed in Xinjiang under China's policies to fight terrorism and extremism, which singled out Uyghurs and other Muslim communities, between 2017 and 2019.

The report cites "patterns of torture" inside what Beijing called vocational centers, which were part of its reputed plan to boost economic development in the region, and it points to "credible" allegations of torture or ill-treatment, including cases of sexual violence.


Above all, perhaps, the report warns that the "arbitrary and discriminatory detention" of such groups in Xinjiang, through moves that stripped them of "fundamental rights … may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity."

The report's authors say they could not confirm estimates of how many people were detained in the internment camps. But they add that, based on the evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that the number held "at least between 2017 and 2019, was very significant, comprising a substantial proportion of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minority populations."

The report calls for an urgent international response over allegations of torture and other rights violations in Beijing's campaign to root out terrorism.

Uyghur Muslims persecuted in China, US calls it a genocide

A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in Yarkent County in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Bachelet brushed aside repeated Chinese calls for her office to withhold the report, which follows her own trip to Xinjiang in May and which Beijing contends is part of a Western campaign to smear China's reputation.

China's U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, slammed the report hours before its release, reiterating that Beijing remained "firmly opposed" to the report. 

"We haven't seen this report yet, but we are completely opposed to such a report, we do not think it will produce any good to anyone," Zhang told reporters outside the Security Council. "We have made it very clear to the high commissioner and in a number of other occasions that we are firmly opposed to such a report."

He alleged that the "so-called Xinjiang issue" was a fabrication intended to undermine China's stability and obstruct its development.

In the past five years, China’s mass detention campaign in Xinjiang swept an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic groups into a network of prisons and camps, which Beijing called "training centers" but former detainees described as brutal detention centers.

Some countries, including the United States, have accused Beijing of committing genocide in Xinjiang.


Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, has urged the 47-member Human Rights Council, whose next session is in September, to investigate the allegations and hold those responsible to account.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.