Chinese Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang
Chinese Uyghur Muslims in XinjiangMatanya Tausig/Flash 90

China's discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity, the UN human rights office said in a long-awaited report released Wednesday.

According to The Associated Press, the report calls for an urgent international response over allegations of torture and other rights violations in Beijing's campaign to root out terrorism.

"The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur 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," the report said, as quoted by AFP.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet released the report just minutes before the conclusion of her four-year term in office.

Bachelet has faced criticism for being too soft on China during a May visit, but ultimately said she brushed aside Chinese calls to withhold the report.

The report, which Western diplomats and UN officials said had been all but ready for months, is unexpected to break significant new ground beyond sweeping findings from independent advocacy groups and journalists who have documented concerns about human rights in Xinjiang for years.

Hours before its release, China's UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, said Beijing remained "firmly opposed" to the release.

"We haven't seen this report yet, but we are completely opposed to such a report, we do not think it will produce any good to anyone," Zhang told reporters outside the Security Council, according to AP.

"We have made it very clear to the high commissioner and in a number of other occasions that we are firmly opposed to such a report," added the ambassador.

While Bachelet had set her sights on Xinjiang upon taking office in September 2018, Western diplomats voiced concerns in private that over her term, she did not challenge China enough when other rights monitors had cited abuses against Muslim Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang.

China has come under fire over its mass detention campaign in Xinjiang, which swept an estimated million Uyghurs and other ethnic groups into a network of prisons and camps, which Beijing called "training centers".

Beijing has since closed many of the camps, but hundreds of thousands continue to languish in prison on vague, secret charges.

Some countries, including the United States, have accused Beijing of committing genocide in Xinjiang.