GENEVA – China committed “serious human rights abuses” against ethnic Muslims in the Xinjiang region under what it calls campaigns to stamp out terrorism and extremism, the top United Nations rights official said in a report that the government in Beijing had tried to block.

The report, delivered by Dr Michelle Bachelet in the final hours of her tenure, found “interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights” that affect the Uighurs, an ethnic group who are largely Muslim, and others.

The report cited testimony from interviewees alleging “patterns of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

It said holy places such as the Imam Asim Shrine in southern Xinjiang had been demolished.

“Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR (Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region) in the context of the government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-‘extremism’ strategies,” the report said.

The assessment raised concerns about the treatment of people held in China’s so-called “Vocational Education and Training Centres”.

“Allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence,” the report said.

“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uighur and other predominantly Muslim groups, pursuant to law and policy, in context of restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights enjoyed individually and collectively, may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” it added.

The report urged Beijing, the UN and the world at large to focus its gaze on the situation described in Xinjiang.

“The human rights situation in XUAR also requires urgent attention by the government, the United Nations intergovernmental bodies and human rights system, as well as the international community more broadly,” it said.

The 49-page report made no reference to genocide, one of the key allegations made by China’s critics, including the United States and lawmakers in other Western countries.

Smears and slanders

In its response, included with the report’s publication, China said the assessment ignores rights achievements made by the Chinese government, goes against the mandate of Dr Bachelet’s office and “wantonly smears and slanders China”.

“The Chinese government, pursuing a people-centred approach, upholds that living a happy life is the primary human right and has embarked on a human rights development path which conforms to the trend of the times,” the government said.