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China’s Xinjiang actions could be crimes against humanity

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By Cate Cadell and Stephanie Nebehay

BEIJING/GENEVA (Reuters) –Human Rights Watch said on Monday that China’s actions in Xinjiang could meet criteria for crimes against humanity, calling for a U.N. investigation into “widespread” abuses and for businesses to shun goods made in the region.

The U.S.-based activist group said there was evidence of ongoing egregious abuses targeting Turkic Muslims, which include Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people. China has consistently denied all accusations of abuse in Xinjiang.

“Given the gravity of the abuses against Turkic Muslims, there is a pressing need for concerned governments to take strong, coordinated action to advance accountability,” Human Rights Watch said.

United Nations experts and rights groups say China has detained over a million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang since 2017 as part of a broad crackdown in the region.

The report cited cases of torture, enforced disappearances, labour transfers, sexual violence and other abuses based on evidence including witness testimonies, government documents and media reports.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said that such crimes were among the gravest under international law.

“Concerned governments should be imposing targeted sanctions – visa bans, economic restrictions and the like. They should be pursuing criminal cases under the concept of universal jurisdiction,” he told a news conference.

Companies that cannot ensure that their supply chains for textiles or other goods were not made using forced labour in Xinjiang should stop doing business there, the report said.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said: “We really think this is a very important moment for anyone doing business in the region to pause and think very very carefully about whether their operations really are free of serious human rights violations.”

LEGAL FRAMEWORK

The report provides a legal framework for how Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang could meet the criteria for crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In December, the ICC said it would not pursue an investigation into the mass detentions because the alleged crimes took place inside China, which is not party to the Hague-based court.

Several Western governments have levied sanctions over alleged rights abuses against China, which has said it will not allow an independent investigation into its programmes in Xinjiang.

Chinese officials initially denied the mass detentions, but have since said people were participating in voluntary vocational training and de-radicalisation programmes, and they have since “graduated”.

In March, the European Union, United States, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang. China responded with corresponding sanctions on several lawmakers, researchers and institutions.

Beijing has called Uighur witnesses abroad “actors” and says efforts to investigate Chinese policy in Xinjiang are led by “anti-China forces”, primarily in the United States.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Neil Fullick and Rosalba O’Brien)

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China to release results of once-in-a-decade census on May 11

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China is expected to release the results of its once-in-a-decade census conducted late last year on May 11, according to a notice from the State Council Information Office.

Officials from the census and statistics bureaus will brief the media on the census results on May 11, the State Council Information Office said in a notice on Sunday.

The National Bureau of Statistics said previously that the results would be released at a media briefing scheduled for early April. It later said the announcement had been delayed, as more preparatory work needed to be done.

 

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Hallie Gu and Xiao Han; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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Afghan school blast toll rises to 58, families bury victims

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The death toll from an explosion outside a school in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul has risen to 58, Afghan officials said on Sunday, with doctors struggling to provide medical care to at least 150 injured.

The bombing on Saturday evening shook the city’s Shi’ite Muslim neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi. The community, a religious minority in Afghanistan, has been targeted in the past by Islamic State militants, a Sunni militant group.

An eyewitness told Reuters all but seven or eight of the victims were schoolgirls going home after finishing studies.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday blamed the attack on Taliban insurgents but a spokesman for the Taliban denied involvement, saying the group condemns any attacks on Afghan civilians.

Families of the victims blamed the Afghan government and Western powers for failing to put an end to violence and the ongoing war.

Bodies were still being collected from morgues as the first burials were conducted in the west of the city. Some families were still searching for missing relatives on Sunday, gathering outside hospitals to read names posted on the walls, and checking morgues.

“The entire night we carried bodies of young girls and boys to a graveyard and prayed for everyone wounded in the attack,” said Mohammed Reza Ali, who has been helping families of the victims at a private hospital.

“Why not just kill all of us to put and end to this war?” he said.

The violence comes a week after remaining U.S. and NATO troops began exiting Afghanistan, with a mission to complete the drawdown by September 11, which will mark the end of America’s longest war.

But the foreign troop withdrawal has led a surge in fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents with both sides trying to retain control over strategic centres.

(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Chinese rocket debris lands in Indian Ocean, draws criticism from NASA

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By Ryan Woo

BEIJING (Reuters) -Remnants of China’s biggest rocket landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, with most of its components destroyed upon re-entry into the atmosphere, ending days of speculation over where the debris would hit but drawing U.S. criticism over lack of transparency.

The coordinates given by Chinese state media, citing the China Manned Space Engineering Office, put the point of impact in the ocean, west of the Maldives archipelago.

Debris from the Long March 5B has had some people looking warily skyward since it blasted off from China’s Hainan island on April 29, but the China Manned Space Engineering Office said most of the debris was burnt up in the atmosphere.

State media reported parts of the rocket re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 a.m. Beijing time (0224 GMT) and landed at a location with the coordinates of longitude 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north.

The U.S. Space command confirmed the re-entry of the rocket over the Arabian Peninsula, but said it was unknown if the debris impacted land or water.

“The exact location of the impact and the span of debris, both of which are unknown at this time, will not be released by U.S. Space Command,” it said in a statement on its website.

The Long March was the second deployment of the 5B variant since its maiden flight in May 2020. Last year, pieces from the first Long March 5B fell on Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings. No injuries were reported.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a former senator and astronaut who was picked for the role in March, said in a statement after the re-entry.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

ANXIETY OVER POTENTIAL DEBRIS ZONE

With most of the Earth’s surface covered by water, the odds of populated area on land being hit had been low, and the likelihood of injuries even lower, according to experts.

But uncertainty over the rocket’s orbital decay and China’s failure to issue stronger reassurances in the run-up to the re-entry fuelled anxiety.

“It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities,” Nelson said.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Reuters that the potential debris zone could have been as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing, and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand.

Since large chunks of the NASA space station Skylab fell from orbit in July 1979 and landed in Australia, most countries have sought to avoid such uncontrolled re-entries through their spacecraft design, McDowell said.

“It makes the Chinese rocket designers look lazy that they didn’t address this,” said McDowell.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid, dismissed as “Western hype” concerns the rocket was “out of control” and could cause damage.

“It is common practice across the world for upper stages of rockets to burn up while reentering the atmosphere,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at China’s foreign ministry, said at a regular media briefing on May 7.

“To my knowledge, the upper stage of this rocket has been deactivated, which means most of its parts will burn up upon re-entry, making the likelihood of damage to aviation or ground facilities and activities extremely low,” Wang said at the time.

The rocket, which put into orbit an unmanned Tianhe module containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent Chinese space station, will be followed by 10 more missions to complete the station by 2022.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Hallie Gu and Xiao Han in Beijing and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Himani Sarkar & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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