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UN Urged to Challenge China for Xinjiang ‘Crimes Against Humanity’

A leading human-rights organization is calling on the United Nations to take a firm stand against the Chinese government for committing “crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

In a report published with Stanford Law School’s Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic Monday, Human Rights Watch said the ruling Communist Party’s “systematic policies” of mass detention, torture and cultural persecution, among others, require “coordinated action” from the international community to sanction those responsible and bring to a halt a campaign that many have labeled “genocide.”

While the Communist Party’s attacks against Turkic Muslims are nothing new, the organization said, the oppression has escalated to “unprecedented levels” in recent years, with widespread restrictions on practicing Islam and increasing evidence of forced labor, broad surveillance, separation of families, sexual violence and violations of reproductive rights.

“Chinese authorities have systematically persecuted Turkic Muslims–their lives, their religion, their culture,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Beijing has said it’s providing ‘vocational training’ and ‘deradicalization,’ but that rhetoric can’t obscure a grim reality of crimes against humanity.”

Human Rights Watch and the Standard Human Rights Clinic are urging the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution that creates a commission of inquiry with the authority to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity, identify officials responsible for the suspected abuses and “provide a roadmap for holding them accountable.”

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Government agencies, the report noted, should assess all investments in Xinjiang and, where necessary, lay down trade sanctions, including divestment, in sectors facing “credible allegations of serious abuses” such as forced labor. They should also ask companies to publicly disclose the names, addresses, ownership and other relevant details about the individuals and entities with whom they conduct business with in Xinjiang. Any company operating out of Xinjiang should face “legally binding requirements” for human-rights due diligence.

There needs to be greater coordination from concerned governments, too, regarding visa bans, travel bans and targeted individual sanctions to perpetrators responsible for these “criminal acts,” the report said, particularly since trade restrictions and other measures to end any use of forced labor in China will be “more effective if pursued collectively.”

“It is increasingly clear that a coordinated global response is needed to end China’s crimes against humanity against Turkic Muslims,” Richardson said. “That China is a powerful state makes it all the more important for holding it accountable for its unrelenting abuses.”

Beijing, which has long maintained that the so-called reeducation centers provide jobs skills that promote economic growth and curb religious extremism, labeled complaints of abuses as “lies and false information concocted by anti-China forces.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told Reuters that critics were trying to “undermine Xinjiang’s stability and security and curb China’s development.” He asked foreign observers to “respect facts and truth” and to “stop the wrong practice of spreading disinformation about Xinjiang and making false statements at every turn.”

The report comes on the heels of news that China is planning to supplant the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) with a domestic version that will create its own national standards for sustainable cotton. The not-for-profit sourcing network had paused all activities in Xinjiang after allegations of forced labor came to a head last year, drawing the ire of Beijing and prompting Chinese brands such as Anta Sports and Fila China to exit the group. (BCI has repeatedly declined to comment on the matter.)

While the new group, called Weilai (“future”) Cotton, is meant to serve as a “national inspiration,” according to one insider, whether it’ll succeed remains an open question, said Sofia Nazalya, Asia analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

“China’s attempt to form [its] own version of BCI is an attempt to deflect from the current controversies over its domestic cotton production,” Nazalya told Sourcing Journal. “However, we expect China’s new initiative will struggle to build any form of credibility or alter international opinion.”

Most companies, she said, are likely not to take any cues on responsible sourcing from this new body but may need to engage with it as a way to keep the Chinese government’s outrage machine—which sucked brands such as H&M and Nike into a maelstrom of nationalist fury last month for expressing concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang—in check.

“Companies could face boycotts from Chinese consumers if seen to be completely rejecting this body,” Nazalya said. “It’s likely businesses will have to perform a delicate balancing act of divesting from cotton coming from [northwestern] China, while placating Beijing by not completely closing the door on this initiative.”