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Human Rights Violation in Xinjiang

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The following research report explores the views and perspectives of various nations of the world regarding Xinjiang’s human rights abuse. Articles from various corners of the world and of distinct matters were studied to gain information on China’s repression of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The report initially summarizes the human rights violation acts against the Uighurs such as being shaved, blindfolded, shackled, and abused in every form. Moreover, the report proceeds toward the attitudes of different nations such as the US, China itself, Pakistan, and Japan as well. Furthermore, the political impacts of being in defense and against the Xinjiang policies are also stated. 

INTRODUCTION

The Chinese government has detained more than a million Muslims in internment camps. Most of the detainees are Uighurs who are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group from China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. China refuses to share information about these detention centers preventing any kind of media coverage. UN officials as well as many foreign governments have urged China to stop this abuse which they also term as ‘genocide’.

BEGINNING OF MASS DETENTION

Since the April of 2017, around 800,000 to 2 million Uyghurs as well as other Muslims such as Kazakhs and Uzbeks have been detained in these camps according to government officials and experts. Most of these Muslims have never been charged to crime and have been targeted for many reasons. The reasons range from contacting or traveling to 26 of the countries that China deems as sensitive such as Afghanistan and Turkey to attending mosque services, having more than three children, and texting Quranic verses. This all compresses to the fact that their only crime is being Muslim.

These camps are located in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region which has been claimed by China since the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) took power in 1949. Uyghurs living there claim that this must be a separate region however, Xinjiang takes up one-sixth of China’s landmass and borders eight countries including Pakistan.

Most experts estimate that these “re-education” efforts began way back in 2014 and then were strikingly expanded in 2017. Satellite imagery reveals that 39 of the camps have almost tripled in size between the April of 2017 and August of 2018 and now approximately cover the area of 140 soccer fields. Research has also brought forth that construction spending on security-related facilities in Xinjiang increased by $2.96 billion in 2017.

SITUATION INSIDE CAMPS

Due to the lack of media coverage and preventing journals to record anything, the information about the conditions inside the camps is limited. However, detainees that have fled away from these camps describe it as a bitter, hard, and severe ground for the detainees. They are forced to pledge loyalty to the CPP and reject Islam as well as learn Mandarin and sing to glorify communism.

Captives also describe it as a prison where every movement and utterance is monitored through cameras and microphones. Some said that they were abused and were sleep-deprived during interrogations. Women shared stories of sexual abuse, including rape and the released detainees considered suicide while some watched their fellows kill themselves.

Children whose parents are sent to camps are sent to state-owned orphanages while parents living outside of China face a difficult choice: return home to be thrown into camps or stay abroad separated from their children.

SITUATION OUTSIDE CAMPS

Long before the camps came into existence, the Chinese government was accused of cracking down on religious freedom and basic human rights in Xinjiang.

Many aspects of Muslim life have been erased from the region. Communist Party members were recruited to stay in “Uyghur homes” in 2014 to monitor any “extremist behaviors” such as fasting in Ramadan or observing prayer being carried out. Mosques were destroyed claiming that they were poorly built. Uyghur women have reported forced sterilization and intrauterine device insertions as well as getting threatened by officials if they have too many children. Moreover, parents were also banned from naming their children Islamic names. The availability of halal food became scarce in Urumqi as the local government launched campaigns against it.

Furthermore, Beijing has compelled other governments to return Uyghurs who have fled China. In 2015, Thailand returned more than a hundred Uyghurs. Egypt also deported several students in 2017. Chinese government instructed officials to collect information on Chinese Uyghurs and that they be arrested as soon as they return back to China.

VERSIONS OF THE NATIONS

In 2019, 22 nations, consisting of mainly Western countries primarily European nations, signed a letter addressed to the President of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urging China to end its massive “genocide” against Uyghurs. A list of 37 countries, mostly African and Middle Eastern nations, also submitted a similar letter however, that was in defense of Chinese policies.

The first letter expressed concerns about “credible reports of arbitrary detention” and “widespread surveillance and restrictions” against Uyghurs and other minorities. The letter also called on China to uphold its commitment as a member of the Human Right Council “refrain from the arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uighurs, and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang.”

However, the second letter clearly expressed their opposition to politicizing human rights and defended what Beijing calls “vocation education and training centers”. Moreover, they justify China’s efforts “counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang” to combat terrorism and extremism.

CHINA

Chinese repression of Uyghurs has been termed as “re-education camps” by the Chinese government. The question arises as to why China is detaining Uyghurs in Xinjiang now. According to the Chinese officials, Uyghurs hold extremist and separatist ideas and they view the camps as a way of eliminating threats to China’s territorial integrity, government, and population.

Initially, the Chinese officials denied the existence of these detention camps however, at the end of 2018 they began calling them “vocational training centers”. According to the officials, the camps serve only two purposes: to teach Mandarin, Chinese laws, and vocational skills and to prevent citizens from being influenced by “extremist” ideas further pointed out that Xinjiang has not faced a terrorist attack since December 2016. Officials claim that the camps prevented violence. Moreover, the government forbids foreign investigators to freely roam the region stating that anything happening inside Xinjiang is an internal issue.

In his “secret speeches”, President Xi Jinping did not explicitly call for arbitrary detention but laid the groundwork for the crackdown in Xinjiang. Moreover, he also warned of the “toxicity of religious extremism” and supported using tools of “dictatorship” to eliminate Islamist extremism.

Moreover, Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang’s Communist Party secretary moved back to the region in 2016 after holding a top leadership position in Tibet. Since then arbitrary arrests became widely used by regional officials. Chen fiercely intensified security in Xinjiang. He repeatedly called on officials to “round up everyone who should be rounded up”.

The CPP pushed to shape all religions to attune to the officially atheist party doctrines and the Han-Chinese society’s customs under Xi. The Chinese government has come to recognize and expression of Islam as extremism which can be interpreted as a result of past independence movements and outbursts of violence. The riot that broke in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi in 2009 in which Uyghurs protested against state-incentivized Han Chinese migration in the region and the widespread economic and cultural discrimination. Approximately 200 people were killed which completely changed the view of Uyghurs in the eye of Beijing. They classified them as potential terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. Future attacks at the local government office, train station, open-air market, and even Tiananmen Square in Beijing were blamed on Uyghurs.

Another question that comes into being is whether economic factors are involved or not. It is apparent that Xinjiang is an important link in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a huge development plan expanding through Asia and Europe. Xinjiang holds China’s largest coal and natural gas reserves therefore Beijing hopes to remove any form of separatist activity that can cause a hindrance in their development in Xinjiang. The economic benefits of resource extraction and development are discriminated against by Uyghurs while Han Chinese enjoy it.

Moreover, the randomly arrested Uyghurs are often sent to work in factories near the detention camps. Since 2017, 80,000 previously detained Uyghurs are sent to work in factories throughout China which are linked to 83 international brands. Studies suggest that forced labor is an important part of the Chinese plan for Xinjiang’s economic development to make it a hub of textile and apparel manufacturing. China terms this as “poverty alleviation”.

China’s usage of euphemism to tone down the most brutal form of human rights violations stems from multiple agendas. The most prominent ones could be a threat to China’s unanimity and the economic factor. USA’s interference in China’s internal affairs has little to do with the abuse in Xinjiang but a lot to do with its strategic geopolitical location and its importance for China’s economic and energy cooperation with Russia and other Central Asian countries. Nonetheless, China views the Xinjiang genocide as “vocational learning” and “eradication of terrorism”.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Much of the world has condemned China’s detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and UN officials have demanded access to these camps as well. In the January of 2021, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that China is committing “crimes” against humanity and “genocide” against Uyghurs making the US the first country to attribute those terms to Chinese abuse in Xinjiang. President Joe Biden also used the word “genocide” to describe the violations against Uyghurs and his secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, affirmed Pompeo’s declaration.

The US also imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials. They even blacklisted agencies and companies affiliated with the abuse blocking them from buying US products. This legislation was signed by Trump which was passed with a lot of support from congress. It also mandated that officials like Chen face sanctions for oppressing Uyghurs. Moreover, the law also makes sure that US companies selling products to or operating in Xinjiang ensure their activities do not supplement the violence.

ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN

While the reports of the UN make it apparent about the genocide being conducted on Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang in China, Pakitan decides to turn a blind eye towards it. China and Pakistan have maintained their friendship on mutual interests such as the protection and checking the influence of their rival, India. The depth of their friendship can be witnessed in the opening of the Karakoram Highway in 1982 which was constructed explicitly for the purpose of promoting trade and building personal relationships and implicitly to enhance the political and logistical control over their frontiers and to deal with any sort of external and internal security threats.

Since Pakistan is a very close ally to China due to CPEC and other economic developments it has covered up a massive human rights abuse. In this situation, Pakistani leaders obviously do not want to raise the question in order to prevent the already rising anti-Chinese sentiments in the country. It would further deteriorate the security of Chinese projects, workers, and companies. Pakistan, however, is a Muslim country and a strong member of OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation). Silence on the Uyghur issue can lead to a lack of credibility on the Kashmir issue as well. It has been argued that the scale of the two issues is different however this argument will prove to be futile if Pakistan wants to be perceived as a genuine champion of Muslims and human rights. It seems that Pakistan follows a model of playing a double standard in dealing with issues related to Muslims.

JAPAN

With the growing abuse on Uyghurs and the denunciation of Chinese genocide, Japan has begun to consider a legal foundation for sanctions like those imposed by the US and Europe. There have been reports that eleven of the 82 well-known international brands that were affiliated with forced Uyghur labor were Japanese. However, ‘Sharp’ states that it disapproves of any form of human rights violation and would take action if any such abuse is found related to their suppliers.

After the sanctions passed by the US which froze the assets of four people including Xinjiang officials under the legislation, there have been moves to submit a similar bill to parliament. However, ministry officials state that Japan is too slow to act compared to the US and Europe. Moreover, Japan’s current legal framework prohibits Japan for economic sanctions just on the basis of human rights. Japanese government thinks that without a UN resolution sanctions on China are highly unlikely.

The hurdles of passing this bill include Chinese retaliation on the legislation. The bill would need to verify the human rights violation in another country and designing such a framework is a difficult task.

CONCLUSION

The detainment of Uighur Muslims in these camps is a threat to human rights all over the globe and will continue to grow to be a fatal issue if not controlled at this stage. International pressure may have contributed to the Chinese government releasing some of the detainees from these camps however, the government still denies mass arbitrary detention in Xinjiang. People have been forcibly disappeared, detained or imprisoned without their families knowing their whereabouts, and even when they are released they are under continued surveillance and forced labor. This human rights abuse is to be marked as the most deadliest after Hitler’s genocide on the Jews.

China continues to dominate its power on these Uyghur groups to maintain and grow economic developments in the Xinjiang region. Many nations across the world have shown their criticism and also implemented it through actions.

The US has passed laws against Xinjiang officials participating in the abuse, EU has signed letters against Chinese policies and addressed it to the UN. States have termed this as genocide and are recognizing it as such as well. However, a large part of the world’s population turns a blind eye to this “abuse”, primarily in the great Islamic countries which raises questions as to where the loyalty lies. Nonetheless, some defend China for their own economic gain, and security issues while some like Saudi Arabia defend it to cover their own mistreatment to the residents living there.

The best hope for those unjustly detained or imprisoned seems to be escalating international pressures to investigate Xinjiang and the underlying activities taking place in that region.

References

  1. Haider, Z. (2005). Sino-Pakistan Relations and Xinjiang’s Uighurs: Politics, Trade, and Islam along the Karakoram Highway. Asian Survey, 45(4), 522-545. doi:10.1525/as.2005.45.4.522
  2. A, N. (2019, July 21). Pakistan turning blind eye to human rights abuses in Xinjiang. ANI. https://www.aninews.in/news/world/us/pakistan-turning-blind-eye-to-human-rights-abuses-in-xinjiang20190721080010/
  3. a, n. (2021, February 24). China: Baseless Imprisonments Surge in Xinjiang. Human Rights watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/24/china-baseless-imprisonments-surge-xinjiang
  4. A, N. (2021, March 22). Uighurs: Western countries sanction China over rights abuses. BBC News.

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