OHCHR ‘politicised’ to make anti-China claims on Xinjiang: new reportJul 21, 2023
It isn’t something we expect from an august body that forms part of the United Nations but, according to CO-WEST-PRO Consultancy’s recently released fourth paper, the report issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on alleged atrocities in Xinjiang is “of substandard quality and is not a reliable source for popular claims made in the West about the Xinjiang situation”.
After an in-depth analysis of the report, CO-WEST-PRO’s author, Jaq James, points out that this, as with other institutional reports she has analysed, increases the risks of errors in the fact-finding process. If there are crimes against humanity occurring in Xinjiang, those crimes deserve thorough research using reliable methodologies to reach conclusions that can stand up to third-party scrutiny. The OHCHR has failed in this.
James is a legal researcher; she does not claim there is no oppression or persecution in Xinjiang, but that the allegations we read in most media, which cite reports such as this, do not prove the case. She asserts that, as part of the UN, the OHCHR should hold itself to higher standards but has instead been politicised to make certain anti-China points. She references former Australian PM Paul Keating who, quite rightly, stated the allegations of human rights are “disputed”.
Opaque sampling, low interview numbers and insufficient verification of witness statements have been extrapolated by the OHCHR to reach conclusions of widespread and systematic human rights abuses. The long held belief that there have been upwards of 800,000, perhaps as many as a million Uyghurs (some report it could be as many as two million) held in detentions, is famously taken from and extrapolation of just 8 individuals. While at the same time, the OHRHC admits that they interviewed just 40 people, so the likelihood of meeting requirements for unbiased opinions are very slim, particularly when those interviewed are outside of the region and no evidence of samples from within the region was offered.
James compares these 40 to the hundreds of interviewees in reports by the Human Rights Special Rapporteur assert crimes in Myanmar to demonstrate a precedent for a reliable research methodology.
If the goal is to assert with certainty that something has happened, then language matters. When the OHCHR mentions (p17) something known as the Karakax List as a: “…document which is in the public domain appearing to be a government document possibly from 2019 and highly likely to be authentic” (emphasis added), it is clear that they have not proven that such assertions are true. In fact, the OHCHR makes no mentions of that the Chinese government have denied such a list and accused the producers of fabrication, stating that the people mentioned on it are normal members of society.
The OHCHR indicates 9 times that the information they received is “likely” or “highly likely” (2 times) to be authentic without establishing beyond a doubt that it is, but concedes (in a footnote) that the Chinese government denied the authenticity of some information related to satellite imagery. The OHCHR report uses the word “may”, in the context of something that might have happened, a total of 35 times; the word “appears” is used 8 times; “suggests” on 5 different occasions and “reportedly” is used 11 times.
This is not the language of certainty, nor does it convey truth or reality. This language is used to insinuate rather than to assert, it is the kind of language used by media to avoid potential legal problems, if later proven to be wrong; which makes it all the more curious and unnecessary since the UN cannot be sued by the Chinese government.
The citations and footnotes are another area of concern. It is highly unusual for a citation in any academic report to include references to private social media accounts, even when (perhaps particularly when) that individual works for a think tank. Yet, think tanker’s social media accounts were referenced twice.
Furthermore, the lack of input from the Global South is another cause for concern. Once in 2019, again the month before the release of the OHCHR report (and twice since in January and May 2023), there have been visits to the regions by Islamic leaders. It is well-known but worth noting, that no Islamic country has criticised China for human rights abuses and, despite many visits, none have alleged crimes against humanity by China. James highlights that only “Western sources” pass the OHCHR gatekeepers, an indicator of Western bias often found in international law.
One aspect of the CO-WEST-PRO paper is the fair and justified criticism James makes of the response by China to the OHCHR report. There is no doubt that China has the ability to bring some of the world’s best legal minds to this debate but have failed to do so. China’s response to the OHCHR was emotional and unprofessional, leaving the task of fighting for truth to charitable researchers like James.
China has implemented Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Extremism laws, which James acknowledges were well analysed by the OHCHR. Having done so, it is clear there are large bodies of the “international community” who have issues with the implementation of those laws and those issues need to be addressed, investigated, analysed and reported as thoroughly as possible. Yet, as all four CO-WEST-PRO papers clearly indicate, this has not been done to any acceptable standard.
Other points of concern about the OHCHR report are the timing of it’s release and the lack of attribution. The High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, visited China, including Xinjiang. She had criticisms but, through the UN, reported her optimism for future cooperation with China. That optimism was dashed by this report being released around midnight on her last day in office and without any signature or commentary from her. Interestingly, it is not signed by anyone, let alone anyone in authority; the authors, like many of the witnesses, remain anonymous.
James has demonstrated that, until investigated thoroughly – in a manner that would stand up to public, peer and legal scrutiny – anyone using OHCHR report, ASPI’s Uyghurs for Sale, the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports or the findings of the Uyghur Tribunal as their sources of information to prove wrongdoing on the part of China, would be likely to encounter legitimate disputes as to their veracity.
Whatever is happening in Xinjiang, James points out that the reports published and widely amplified by media do not sufficiently make the case that international law is being breached there. They prove only that some people believe it may be.