China's "arbitrary and discriminatory detention" of Uyghurs and other Muslims in its Xinjiang region may constitute crimes against humanity, the outgoing UN human rights chief said in a long-awaited report.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who some diplomats and rights groups have criticised as soft on China, released the report just minutes before her four-year term ended.
She visited China in May and the report details have added fuel to the fire of global critics who accuse the Chinese government of a slow-moving genocide.
China has vigorously denied any abuses in Xinjiang and issued a 131-page response to the 48-page UN report.
The UN Human Rights Office said in the report that "serious human rights violations have been committed" in Xinjiang in the context of the government's application of "counter-terrorism and counter-'extremism' strategies".
"The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups ... may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity," the UN office said on its website.
It recommended the Chinese government take prompt steps to release all those detained in training centres, prisons or detention facilities.
"There are credible indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive enforcement of family planning policies since 2017," the office said.
It added that a lack of government data "makes it difficult to draw conclusions on the full extent of current enforcement of these policies and associated violations of reproductive rights."
Report 'deepens and reaffirms our grave concerns': US
Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced labour in internment camps. The United States has accused China of genocide.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the report's release on Thursday (local time), saying in a statement it "deepens and reaffirms our grave concern regarding the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity" against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups.
The European Commission, responding to the report, said it strongly condemns human rights violations in China.
EU powerhouse Germany said the report confirmed that "there is cause for grave concern" about gross human rights violations.
A UN spokesperson said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hopes China will "take on board the recommendations" in the report.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin described the report as "completely illegal and void".
"This proves once again that the OHCHR has become a thug and accomplice of the US and the West," he said during a regular daily briefing on Thursday in Beijing, where he was asked repeatedly about the report.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington would work with allies and partners to demand an end to China's abuses. She said it was critical that the full Human Rights Council membership formally discuss the findings of the report as soon as possible and that the perpetrators of the "atrocities" be held accountable.
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