Campaigners urge UN rights chief to act on China Xinjiang abuse report

Ethnic Uyghur demonstrators take part in a protest against the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the Turkish capital in Istanbul

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - Campaign groups called on the United Nations human rights chief to take more action over what they said were documented abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslims in China's Xinjiang region.

The groups, including the World Uyghur Congress and Amnesty International said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk had not followed up on a 2022 report by his predecessor that found China may have committed crimes against humanity.

After taking office in October 2022, Turk, a former lawyer, said he stood by the report and wanted to engage China over the findings.

"As the High Commissioner has made clear, he stands behind the UN Human Rights report on Xinjiang issued in 2022, and we are engaging with the government of China on a range of human rights issues, including in follow-up to the report," Liz Throssell, U.N. Human Rights Office spokesperson, said on Friday.

The August 2022 report, produced under the leadership of the last commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang may be an international crime.

China has repeatedly denied accusations of abuses in its northwest Xinjiang region. China defended its record and dismissed the campaign groups' statement given at a meeting in the Geneva headquarters of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Just before Turk took office, mostly non-Western members of the Rights Council voted down a motion brought by the U.S., Britain and other mostly Western powers to hold a debate about the report - a result that was seen as a diplomatic victory for Beijing.

"To date there has been no action, no meaningful action," Zumretay Arkin, a spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress, told a meeting on Thursday. "We are here to remind everyone ... that impunity cannot be the solution."

The campaign groups, also including Human Rights Watch and the International Service for Human Rights, translated the 2022 report into five languages, published them and called for Turk to give an update on how his office and China had responded to the report's recommendations.

China's attache at its mission in Geneva, Zhu Kexing, told the session: "In order to discredit China and hinder China's development, a small number of NGOs and Western countries do not hesitate to act as liars and rumour-makers to serve their anti-China separatist plots."

Several countries, including the United States and Australia, also voiced concerns about the lack of follow-up on the 2022 report but stopped short of giving specific recommendations on how Turk's office should react.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Barbara Lewis)