UN expert says Xinjiang forced labor demands ‘reasonable’



A United Nations slavery expert has found forced labor allegations in Xinjiang to be ‘reasonable’, in one of the clearest criticisms of China’s human rights practices at the global body .

Tomoya Obokata, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, said in a report that the involuntary nature of Chinese employment programs in Xinjiang indicated forced labor, even as they improved employment opportunities for some minorities. The findings were based on an “independent assessment of available information”, including stakeholder submissions, victim testimonies and government records.

“The Special Rapporteur considers it reasonable to conclude that forced labor among Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing took place in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China,” the Obokata report said. Similar policies were in place in Tibet, according to the report, dated July 19 and posted on Obokata’s Twitter feed on Tuesday.

The report on global slavery concerns has been addressed to the Human Rights Council and is separate from an assessment on Xinjiang expected to be released soon by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. man, Michelle Bachelet. Xinjiang scholars have urged Bachelet to publish his report after a widely criticized trip to China in May, which the rights chief has since acknowledged faces “limitations”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the report on Wednesday, saying the special rapporteur had abused his power to “obviously smear China and act as a political tool of anti-China forces.”

“There has never been forced labor in Xinjiang,” Wang said at a regular press briefing in Beijing. “The Chinese government follows a people-centered approach. We pay great attention to the protection of workers’ rights and interests.

China has denied forced labor allegations by the United States and other governments, calling them the “lie of the century”, and last week submitted two treaties ratified by the International Labor Organization on the practice. “The Chinese government has once again made clear its resolute stance on opposing and combating forced labor,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Monday at a regular press briefing. .

The United States has crafted measures to punish China for its human rights practices in Xinjiang, including the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Law. The legislation, which took effect in June, prohibits the import of anything produced in Xinjiang unless the companies can provide ‘clear and convincing evidence’ that it was not made with forced labor .

James Cockayne, anti-slavery commissioner for the state of New South Wales, Australia, said he was unaware that a UN special rapporteur had made such a clear statement on Xinjiang. previously.

“This is an important finding from the world’s leading UN expert on this issue,” said Cockayne, a former professor at the University of Nottingham. “The question of where the commissioner’s report is, when we can see it, is crucial.”

Obokata is Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Keele University and specializes in transnational organized crime, human trafficking and modern slavery. He was appointed Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in March 2020.

Obokata’s report describes two labor systems in Xinjiang, including one in which minorities are detained and subjected to internships to give them job skills, education and training. Separately, surplus rural workers are transferred to jobs in the secondary or tertiary sector as part of a poverty alleviation programme.

“Given the nature and extent of the powers exercised over the workers concerned during forced labour, including excessive surveillance, abusive living and working conditions, restrictions of movement through internment, threats, physical and/or sexual violence and other inhuman or degrading treatment, some cases may amount to enslavement as a crime against humanity, meriting further independent analysis,” the Obokata report states.

Adrian Zenz, a senior China studies fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and a leading critic of Chinese policies in Xinjiang, said the rapporteur’s report set a “very important” precedent. “It would be embarrassing if Bachelet’s report said otherwise,” Zenz said.

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A strict US ban on imports from China’s Xinjiang region that took effect this week is increasing pressure on companies to prove their supply chains are free of forced labor.



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