The large-scale internment of Uyghur Muslims, and arbitrary detention, attracted international criticism at the UN Universal Periodic Review of China on 6th November with 14 countries directly challenging China on the detentions in Xinjiang.  Among the many comments, the United Kingdom called for China to implement the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommendations on Xinjiang, which included halting the practice of extra-legal detention, immediately releasing individuals detained under these circumstances, and allowing the UN unrestricted access to monitor.  

The United States also urged China to abolish all forms of arbitrary detention and specifically raised the cases of detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang and activist Huang Qi, among others. During the UPR session the Chinese delegation responded by stating that “being a lawyer is not an amulet to criminals” and denied “the so-called repression of so-called rights defence lawyers.”  

On the day before the review, The Global Times, a tabloid under the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, suggested that, “China is exploring a new path of improving human rights with its Xinjiang policies”.  The detention facilities are now being cast as vocational training centres that will help to prevent terrorism. On 12th November, a letter was sent from UN Working Groups and experts to the Chinese government calling for the repeal of the Xinjiang “Regulation on De-extremification” in which they highlighted their concerns over the closed and coercive nature of the centres.  

Xinjiang exemplifies the systemic violation of a wide range of human rights in China from the right to freedom of religion and cultural expression among Xinjiang’s non-Han populations to restrictions on freedom of movement and the use of arbitrary detention and risk of torture. These violations are not unique to Xinjiang, but they are uniquely concentrated, for now, in this westernmost region of China.

China speaks of “a path of human rights development with Chinese characteristics”. If Xinjiang is any guide to how China envisions human rights there is little place for the individual or respect for human dignity.

In our UPR submission, The Rights Practice raised concerns about the use of a range of detention measures outside the formal criminal justice system from ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, used against human rights defenders, to the new ‘retention in custody’ for officials suspected of corruption. These practices not only deprive those targeted of their liberty, placing them at risk of ill treatment, but also contribute to a climate of fear undermining the enjoyment of many other freedoms.  

The Rights Practice will continue to work closely with Chinese lawyers and legal scholars and monitor criminal justice developments in China.