The United States government is “deeply disturbed” by reports of systematic rape and sexual torture of women detained in China’s Xinjiang camps for ethnic Uighur and other Muslims, and demanded serious consequences.
The US state department was responding to a BBC report, published on Wednesday, detailing horrific allegations rape, sexual abuse and torture, based on interviews with several former detainees and a guard. The interviewees told the BBC “they experienced or saw evidence of an organised system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture”.
“We are deeply disturbed by reports, including first-hand testimony, of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang,” a state department spokesperson said, reiterating US accusations that China has committed “crimes against humanity and genocide” in Xinjiang.
“These atrocities shock the conscience and must be met with serious consequences.”
The spokesperson demanded China allow “immediate and independent investigations by international observers” into the rape allegations “in addition to the other atrocities being committed in Xinjiang.”
The BBC report said it was unable to independently verify the women’s stories, which included horrific accounts of sexual assault and torture, and the forcing of some women to strip and handcuff others before they were left alone with Han men. However, key details and travel documents matched timelines and available satellite imagery, and corresponded with numerous other accounts from former detainees.
Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, echoed the US’s calls for international observers, including the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, “to be given immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang at the earliest opportunity,” she said.
“Australia has been consistent in raising our significant concerns with the human rights abuses in Xinjiang. These latest reports of systematic torture and abuse of women are deeply disturbing and raise serious questions regarding the treatment of Uighurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”
China has consistently denied allegations of human rights abuses and genocide in Xinjiang, despite mounting evidence of mass internment, suspected forced labour programmes, indoctrination, forced sterilisation of women, extensive digital and in person surveillance, and suppression of religious and cultural activities. China says the camps are vocational training centres designed to counter extremism.
On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin accused the BBC of making a “false report” which was “wholly without factual basis”.
He claimed the women interviewed were “actors disseminating false information”, and said China had released multiple reports showing “people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang live in peace and contentment, unity and harmony, and that all their legal rights are effectively guaranteed”.
Among the reports referred to the Wang is a white paper on Xinjiang which last year admitted for the first time that more than 1.2 million people had been sent through its “vocational training” programmes.
The BBC revelations horrified the global Uighur community, many of whom have missing family members detained or suspected to be detained in the camps. Recent data leaks have shown that contact with overseas relatives has been used by Chinese authorities to justify detaining a Uighur person in Xinjiang.
“I have a mother, a wife, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers. The rape of any woman breaks my heart and makes my blood boil,” said Salih Hudayar, the US-based founder of a self-declared government-in-exile for East Turkistan.
“The systematic rape of Uighur and other Turkic women are part of China’s ongoing genocide against East Turkistan’s people. We urge the international community to support our case against China at the International Criminal Court.”
In December the ICC rejected an application to investigate claims of genocide in Xinjiang, saying it was unable to act because the alleged crimes occurred in China, which is not a party to the court and so is outside its jurisdiction.
The Biden administration has endorsed a declaration by the outgoing Trump administration in its final days of office that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang.