China's "arbitrary and discriminatory detention" of Uighurs and other Muslims in the country's Xinjiang region may constitute crimes against humanity, the outgoing UN human rights chief said in a long-awaited report on Wednesday.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who has faced criticism from some diplomats and rights groups for being too soft on China, released the report just minutes before her four-year term ended on Wednesday. She visited China in May.
The lengthy report said "serious human rights violations have been committed" in Xinjiang "in the context of the Government's application of counter-terrorism and counter-'extremism' strategies."
"The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uighur and other predominantly Muslim groups... may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity," the UN report said.
She recommended the Chinese government to take prompt steps to release all those detained in training centers, prisons or detentions facilities.
"There are credible indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive enforcement of family planning policies since 2017," the report said.
It added that a lack of government data "makes it difficult to draw conclusions on the full extent of current enforcement of these policies and associated violations of reproductive rights."
Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uighurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced labour in internment camps. The US has accused China of genocide.
China has vigorously denied the allegations.
Speaking ahead of the report's release, China's ambassador to the UN in New York, Zhang Jun, said Beijing had repeatedly voiced opposition to it. He said the UN human rights chief should not interfere in China's internal affairs.
"We all know, so well, that the so-called Xinjiang issue is a completely fabricated lie out of political motivations and its purpose definitely is to undermine China's stability and to obstruct China's development," Zhang told reporters on Wednesday.
"We do not think it will produce any good to anyone, it simply undermines the cooperation between the United Nations and a member state," he said.
Reuters reported last month that China had asked Bachelet to bury the report, according to a Chinese letter that was confirmed by diplomats.
Bachelet confirmed last week having received the letter which she said was signed by about 40 other states, adding her office would not respond to such pressure.
Bachelet, 70, plans to return to Chile to retire. Many candidates have applied for the job but no successor has yet been named by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres whose choice must then be approved by the General Assembly in New York.
"Frankly to issue the report as she's walking out the door minimises the report," Kenneth Roth at Human Rights Watch told Reuters. "By issuing and running she is giving up, she's not doing anything with it, (she is) just kind of dropping it into the bin and leaving the office."