Numerous major media outlets, from Reuters to The Intercept, have claimed that the United Nations has reports that the Chinese government is holding as many as 1 million Uighur Muslims in “internment camps.” But a close examination of these news stories, and of the evidence behind them — or the lack thereof — demonstrates that the extraordinary claim is simply not true.
A spokesperson from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed in a statement to The Grayzone that the allegation of Chinese “camps” was not made by the United Nations, but rather by a member of an independent committee that does not speak for the UN as a whole. That member happened to be the only American on the committee, and one with no background of scholarship or research on China.
Moreover, this accusation is based on the thinly sourced reports of a Chinese opposition group that is funded by the American government’s regime-change arm and is closely tied to exiled pro-US activists. There have been numerous reports of discrimination against Uighur Muslims in China. However, information about camps containing 1 million prisoners has originated almost exclusively from media outlets and organizations funded and weaponized by the US government to turn up the heat on Beijing.
A blatant falsehood introduced by Reuters and echoed across mainstream media
On August 10, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination conducted its regular review of China’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The review, which is conducted periodically for all 179 parties to the Convention, has generated a frenzied response by the Western corporate press — one which is uniformly misleading.
On the day of the review, Reuters published a report with an explosive headline: “U.N. says it has credible reports that China holds million Uighurs in secret camps.”
The claim was feverishly reproduced by outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post to denounce China and call for international action. Even The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan belted out the breathless headline, “One Million Muslim Uighurs Have Been Detained by China, the U.N. Says. Where’s the Global Outrage?”
The impression readers were given was that the UN had conducted an investigation and had formally and collectively made such charges against China. In fact, the UN had done no such thing.
The headline of Reuters’ report attributed its explosive claim to the UN; yet the body of the article ascribed it simply to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. And this committee’s official website makes it clear that it is “a body of independent experts,” not UN officials.
What’s more, a look at the OHCHR’s official news release on the committee’s presentation of the report showed that the only mention of alleged re-education “camps” in China was made by its sole American member, Gay McDougall. This claim was then echoed by a Mauritanian member, Yemhelhe Mint Mohamed.
During the committee’s regular review of China, McDougall commented that she was “deeply concerned” about “credible reports” alleging mass detentions of millions of Uighurs Muslim minorities in “internment camps.” The Associated Press reported that McDougall “did not specify a source for that information in her remarks at the hearing.” (Note that the headline of the AP news wire is much weaker than that of Reuters: “UN panel concerned at reported Chinese detention of Uighurs.”)