UN committee urges China to dismantle forced labour systems

FILE PHOTO: Uyghur photo exhibit in Geneva

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. committee said on Monday it was concerned about China's treatment of its Muslim minority, including the use of forced labour against Uyghurs, in a sweeping report that adds pressure on Beijing to improve its human rights record.

The findings by the group of U.N.-appointed independent experts follow a series of Geneva hearings last month where rights groups raised a range of topics including Beijing's COVID-19 policies, treatment of human rights defenders and its Muslim minority.

Last year, a report by the U.N. human rights chief said China's treatment of Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in Xinjiang, in the country's far west, may constitute crimes against humanity.

China vigorously denies the allegations.

The 18-person U.N. committee that monitors countries' compliance under the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights voiced concern over "numerous indications of coercive measures, including forced labour" against ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs.

It called on Beijing to immediately pass legislation prohibiting coercive measures; dismantle all systems of forced labour; and release all individuals subject to it.

China submitted an 11-page response to the report saying it would carefully study the recommendations and was open to implementing any "that are suited to China's national realities". However, it rejected the Xinjiang recommendations, among others, calling them "untruthful".

The committee also called for an end to "systematic" reprisals and prosecutions against human rights defenders and lawyers working in this area. It similarly voiced concern about growing mental health problems following the country's prolonged lockdowns under its strict zero-COVID policy that ended late last year, and called for more funding for this area.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Alex Richardson)