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Ethics briefing
  1. Rebecca Mussell1,
  2. Caroline Ann Harrison2,
  3. Julian C Sheather1,
  4. Sophie Brannan1,
  5. Veronica English1
  1. 1 Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London, UK
  2. 2 Ethics, BMA, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Rebecca Mussell, Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London WC1H 9JP, UK; rmussell{at}

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The office of the United nations high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR): serious human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, China

Very close to midnight on the 31 August 2022, minutes before Michelle Bachelet’s four-year term as UN Commissioner for Human Rights came to an end, her office finally succeeded in publishing her long-delayed report into serious human rights violations in the Xinjiang province in China. According to The Guardian newspaper, papers leaked in July of the same year showed sustained efforts by China to prevent the report’s release, and Bachelet has subsequently spoken of the intense pressure she was put under by the Chinese to prevent the report’s publication.1

The report is sobering.2 It is explicit that the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) has committed systematic violations of fundamental human rights against the Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Province in the pursuit of state-sponsored counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies. The report documents the large-scale internment of Uyghur and other Muslim populations in what the PRC calls ‘Vocational Education and Training Centres’ (VETC).

The report regards ‘allegations of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention’ along with individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence to be ‘credible.’3 The report also highlights a range of other serious human rights abuses against Muslim populations in Xinjiang, including coercive medical practices ‘far-reaching, arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms, in violation of international norms and standards. These have included undue restrictions on religious identity and expression, as well as the rights to privacy and movement. There are serious indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive and discriminatory enforcement of family planning and birth control policies.’3

Although the OHCHR came under extreme pressure from the Chinese to bury the report, its publication may prove a watershed, bringing irrefutable proof to international audiences of serious human rights violations, including unethical …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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