In its strongest words to date on Chinese excesses in Xinjiang province, a United Nations (UN) report concluded that “serious human rights violations” against Uyghurs and “other communities predominantly Muslim” were committed.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also noted in its report that the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang likely amounted to “crimes against humanity”.
The long-awaited UN report is the latest indictment against the Chinese state, which has been repeatedly accused by human rights activists and media investigations of repressive policies in Xinjiang and the detention of millions of mostly Muslim Uyghurs in internment camps that China calls “re-education camps” but are meant to be like Nazi concentration camps.
Here we explain who the Uighurs are, what China is accused of doing with them in Xinjiang and why it is doing it, and highlight the findings of the UN report.
Who are the Uyghurs of Xinjiang in China?
The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking people who live primarily in Xinjiang Province in northwest China, officially called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). They are also spelled or spelled as Uyghurs and Uyghurs. They mainly follow Sunni Islam in China.
According British Encyclopediawhich adds that they recorded existence in China from the 3rd century CE.
Although Xinjiang province is named after the Uyghurs, they make up less than half of the province’s population, as Han Chinese have settled in the province since the 1950s, which has accelerated since the 1990s.
“The past few decades have seen a massive migration of Han Chinese (Chinese ethnic majority) to Xinjiang, allegedly orchestrated by the state to dilute the minority population there,” notes BBC.
Xinjiang is mainly a desert region. It produces up to a fifth of the world’s cotton. Among the many allegations against the Chinese in Xinjiang is that they force the Uyghur people to grow and harvest cotton against their will, which is then exported.
The conclusions of the UN report on Xinjiang
The UN report on Xinjiang revealed that the Chinese government imposes severe restrictions on human rights and practices discrimination in the province. He also concluded that the targeted sexual abuse allegations are credible.
Allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and poor prison conditions, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, said UN High Commissioner human rights, Michelle Bachelet.
The Chinese government says it places people in Vocational Education and Training Centers (VETCs) for the purpose of countering terrorism and extremism. The UN in a press release noted that “the [Chinese] Government policy in recent years in Xinjiang has “led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights”. Even if the VETC system has, as China puts it, been reduced in scope or removed, “the laws and policies that underpin it remain in place,” leading to an increased use of imprisonment.”
It further says, “Systems of arbitrary detention and related patterns of abuse since 2017” are set in the context of broader discrimination “against Uyghurs and other minorities.”
The UN report lists the following reasons for putting people in these VETCs, which the world claims are internment camps:
- have too many children
- to be a “dangerous person”
- to be born in certain years
- being a former prisoner,
- to wear a veil or a beard
- have applied for a passport and not have left the country
The report also finds that detainees do not benefit from the guarantees prescribed by international standards. “Detainees do not appear to have access to lawyers or be informed of the length of their detention or the criteria for release, which are not specified in the law,” the UN report said.
The report states bluntly that the criteria for referring a person to VETCs – or re-education camps, as China also calls them – are not based on law but on “ethnic identity and expression, religious and cultural” of a person, which makes the whole exercise arbitrary and discriminatory.
“Finally, given that the criteria for referral to VETC establishments are based to a large extent on ethnic, religious and cultural forms of identity and expression, it is of great concern that the deprivations of liberty in the establishments of VETC are applied in a discriminatory manner, which aggravates the arbitrariness of detention in the centers,” the UN report states.
What about the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang?
While the UN report noted sexual abuse and called the treatment of Uyghurs arbitrary and discriminatory, the extent of the allegations made by activists and international media investigations are far more serious and detailed.
Estimates of the number of Uyghurs detained vary between 8 and 30 lakhs. Voice explains: “The Chinese Communist Party arbitrarily detained between 1 million and 3 million other Uyghurs in so-called “re-education centers” and forced them to undergo psychological indoctrination programs, such as studying Communist propaganda. and thank Chinese President Xi Jinping. officials also reportedly used waterboarding and other forms of torture, including sexual abuse, as part of the indoctrination process. »
Voice noted that it was the “largest mass internment of an ethnic and religious minority group since World War II”, when Jews were held in concentration camps and killed and tortured by Nazi Germany.
They have no legal representation in these camps and are not even charged with a crime. The punishment for an escape can even be death. The BBC reported, citing leaked internal documents, that if an inmate escapes, an alarm sounds and an armed team pursues the fleeing inmate. “After a warning shot is fired, if ‘the student’ continues to attempt to escape, the order is clear: shoot him,” reported BBC.
The influx of Han Chinese into Xinjiang has also reduced indigenous Uighurs to a minority in the province, leading to conclusions that the Chinese government aims to erode the religious and cultural identity of Uighurs in the province, just as they are. accused of having done so in Tibet.
“The reports paint an increasingly alarming picture of what appears to be a strategic campaign by Beijing to strip Muslim-majority Uyghurs of their cultural and religious identity and crack down on behavior seen as unpatriotic,” it said. CNN in 2020 based on leaked internal Chinese documents.
The idea behind the “re-education” of the people is to replace their ethnic, religious or cultural identity with the Chinese national identity that is associated with the Han Chinese people.
There is also evidence of gender-based violence, with Voice noting that an “investigation has found evidence that Chinese authorities have subjected Uyghur women to mass sterilization, forcing them to take birth control or have abortions and putting them in camps if they resist”.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in its survey found 380 detention centres, which have continued to grow over time despite Chinese claims that the scope of detentions has been reduced over the years. Using satellite imagery, ASPI has identified 380 detention centers.
“At least 61 detention sites saw construction and expansion between July 2019 and July 2020. This includes at least 14 facilities still under construction in 2020,” ASPI reported.
He further reported: “Of these new and expanded sites, approximately 50% are higher security facilities, which may suggest a shift in use from lower security ‘rehabilitation centers’ to prison-like facilities at higher security.”
This suggests that China is not easing its mistreatment of Uyghurs, but rather stepping up its detentions aimed at eroding their cultural and religious identity.
Justification of its actions by China
China has dismissed accusations of detentions, discrimination and human rights violations in Xinjiang province. He instead claimed that his centers were rehabilitation centers to wean people off terrorism and extremism.
The Chinese government is concerned about the radicalization of Uighurs and believes there is a separatist movement in the province. There is indeed a sense of unity among Uyghurs with people sharing their ethnicity across Chinese borders. BBC notes that they “consider themselves culturally and ethnically close to the nations of Central Asia”.
There have been clashes between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, with “a particularly violent outbreak occurring in July 2009, mainly in Ürümqi, in which nearly 200 people (mostly Han) were reported to have been killed and some 1,700 injured”. according Britishwho also adds that there were also stabbings and suicide attacks.
While there is indeed evidence of some separatist sentiment and an organized movement, China is accused of using it as an excuse for widespread persecution in Xinjiang.
“Some Uyghurs who live there call the region East Turkestan and argue that it should be independent from China,” the Council on Foreign Relations notes in its briefing paper.
The separatist movement is led by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The UN Security Council said ETIM “has used violence to achieve its goal of creating an independent so-called ‘East Turkestan’ in China” and is active in South Asia, Asia Central and Xinjiang.
He further noted that “ETIM received significant support from Al-Qaida and the Taliban, and previously from Osama bin Laden and sent its members to training camps of Al-Qaida and Taliban. Upon completion of the training, ETIM members traveled to Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya of the Russian Federation and China to commit terrorist acts and other acts of violence. ETIM also plans to use Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as transit routes for the illegal transfer of fighters to China.
The international community, however, remains unconvinced of China’s justifications. The US government maintains that the Chinese government has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
“To constitute genocide, there must be a demonstrated intent on the part of the perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” the UN says.