The United States is “deeply disturbed” by reports of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women in internment camps for ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region, the U.S. State Department said on February 3.
“These atrocities shock the conscience and must be met with serious consequences,” a State Department spokesperson said in an e-mail to RFE/RL.
The statement comes after a news report earlier on February 3 quoted women who fled Xinjiang describing rape, torture, and beatings occurring in the camps. The BBC report included first-hand accounts from women who had been held in the camps.
The State Department statement reiterated charges that China has committed “crimes against humanity and genocide” in Xinjiang. It also called on China’s leaders to release all “arbitrarily detained people and abolish the internment camps,” end torture, and stop the persecution of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the BBC report was “wholly without factual basis” and said the people interviewed had been “proved multiple times” to be “actors disseminating false information.”
The United Nations has estimated that at least 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim indigenous people in Xinjiang have been detained in what it described as “counterextremism centers” in the region.
The UN has also said that millions more have been forced into internment camps, though Beijing insists that the facilities are “vocational education centers” aimed at helping people steer clear of terrorism and allowing them to be reintegrated into society.
A group of U.S. senators on February 2 cited the treatment of the Uyghurs, the restrictions of human rights in Hong Kong, and threats against Taiwan in introducing a resolution seeking to remove the 2022 Winter Olympics from China.
The resolution submitted by Senator Rick Scott (Republican-Florida) and six other Republican senators urges the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to rebid the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Communist China should not be allowed to host the 2022 Olympic Games while simultaneously running concentration camps, violating human rights and systematically oppressing the people of Hong Kong,” Scott said in a statement.
The Biden administration has signaled that it currently has no plans to bar U.S. athletes from participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“We’re not currently talking about changing our posture or our plans as it relates to the Beijing Olympics,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing.
Earlier on February 3, a coalition of 180 rights organizations called for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in an open letter, which said such a move would ensure they “are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent.”
The coalition said that, since Beijing was awarded the Winter Olympics in 2015, “President Xi Jinping has unleashed an unrelenting crackdown on basic freedom and human rights.”
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that “politically motivated attempts to interfere or disrupt the preparations of the Games is very irresponsible.”