Natalie Walls, Special to the Chanticleer
Over a million people primarily in the Muslim Uighur community have disappeared in Central Asia, leaving friends and family members without closure.
Where did they go?
The jury is still out on this question, but an answer is just semantics versus the larger issue of what is actually transpiring. Some refer to the location of the victims as “re-education centers,” while others (like in the United States) liken it to a concentration camp.
Arguments regarding a proper label is frivolous, however, and must be shifted to what is an indisputable fact: the human rights abuses that are occurring in China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang must be dealt with via naming and shaming by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
According to The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, there are about 380 facilities present in Xinjiang, but the exact numbers are shrouded in mystery like many facets of China.
The goal, proclaimed by China, is to address political extremism and poverty via so-called voluntary “vocational training,” but further investigation gives light to a far more sinister intent.
According to a report by Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in September, Muslim Uighurs have been transported against their will (though they have committed no crime and have been given no trial) from the vocational facilities to, “…Xinjiang’s vast “re-education” network [and] are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities, including newly built or expanded prisons, or sent to walled factory compounds for coerced labour assignments.”
Thus, this latest report gives credence to the fact something truly nefarious is taking place.
It is a historically established fact that China has had a negatively inconsistent record (at best) regarding human rights violations.
In 2019, China had “a systematic crackdown on dissent,” according to Amnesty International, and that “the justice system remained plagued by unfair trials and torture and other ill-treatment in detention.” With this in mind, it comes as no surprise to hear of these “re-education centers.”
Published by the British Broadcasting Company in November of 2019, there was information leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that included a memo that was supposed to go to the camps in 2017 from Zhu Hailun, who was, at the time, the deputy-secretary of Xinjiang’s Communist Party and the region’s top security official.
Within the memo (which the Chinese government has alleged is fake), there are harsh regulations that mandate “strict discipline, punishments and no escapes.”
Moreover, there is total control of the prisoners’ lives. From where they sleep to when they eat or use the bathroom, there is constant surveillance.
Indoctrination is the main objective of the camps. Prisoners, according to the leaked memo, are only allowed to leave if they outwardly show an extreme change in behavior and feelings, giving remorse for their illegal beliefs. Such a practice essentially aims to strip the Muslim Uighur community from their very identity through intense brainwashing.
So, what must be done? According to Ana Swanson and Edward Wong from The New York Times, thus far, the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has imposed sanctions that specifically name the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which are main actors in the economic and paramilitary development in Xinjiang.
The sanctions’ goals are to prohibit economic transactions between the two organizations and American companies as well as to prevent access of American property/financial systems.
The sanctions may sound effective theoretically, but in practice, Swanson and Wong write that, “….[the sanctions] most likely will have little or no practical impact…” on those directly involved in the organizations.
From an international perspective, Louis Charbonneau from Human Rights Watch writes that in 2019, “British Ambassador Karen Pierce used a public statement at the UN’s New York headquarters, backed by some two dozen countries, to condemn China’s treatment of Turkic Muslims, urge the closure of detention centers, and appeal for Bachelet’s unrestricted access.”
However, this was met with some of China’s supporting countries to respond by praising China for its protection of human rights, showing, unfortunately, that the pursuit for human rights protection is not without political undertones and the pressure of states to “take sides.”
Though this is a step in the right direction, this is hardly enough. The prisoners undergoing traumatic psychological, emotional and physical turmoil deserve more.
Instead, the most severe action must be taken by the United Nations Human Rights Council — to pass a resolution that publicly condemns China for their egregious human rights abuses towards the Muslim Uighur community in the concentration camps.
Once again, the cruel mistress of politics is rearing her ugly, self-interested head, exemplified by the fact that the U.N. Human Rights Council is afraid to be too harsh on such a powerful U.N. member like China.
However, even though China is extremely influential in the U.N., the political hypocrisy must cease because almost a million lives are at stake. If anything, because China is hierarchically powerful, it is all the more important for it be called out for its bad behavior in order to send the message that cultural genocide (and other human rights violations) will not be tolerated by the international community no matter who is doing wrong.
Naming and shaming can be an effective tool depending on the nature of the regime.
According to Emilie M. Hafner-Burton in her journal article entitled “Sticks and Stones: Naming and Shaming the Human Rights Enforcement Problem,” there have been mixed results when it comes to naming and shaming.
Fortunately, China has been in the figurative hot seat recently and has been known historically to dislike criticism (like most authoritarian governments).
Thus, naming and shaming via a public resolution could be effective. To do anything less than a resolution to put the utmost pressure on the Chinese government will harm both the legitimacy of the U.N. Human Rights Council (as it will be seen as neglecting its very duty due to a lack of political courageousness) and the Muslim Uighur community as they are kidnapped and robbed of what they hold dear.
Their lives should not be treated as inconsequential pawns in the vicious political game. Rather, the U.N. Human Rights Council must fulfill its highest purpose and showcase a great deal of political courage in order to save them.
Natalie Walls is a Jacksonville State junior majoring in political science with a minor in sociology.