After over a decade of relative neglect on the part of the international community, a renewed focus on China’s human rights has resurfaced as a prominent aspect of bilateral relations between China and many other nations of the world. The threatening rise of China has put it under various scrutiny not only for its illegal claims in the South China Sea and the wider Indo-Pacific but also for its gross human rights violations.
The human rights issue in China had initially gathered attention with the arbitrary imprisonment and arrest of thousands of participants in the 1989 Tiananmen protest and has been then the main source of concern for the entire international human rights machinery. A state-wide manhunt for protestors was conducted in June and July of 1989, along with a “most wanted” list of the principal organisers of the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. Moreover, the Chinese government’s official response to the incident was to downplay its importance, branding the demonstrators as “counter-revolutionaries” and downplaying the magnitude of Chinese PLA’s military operations on June 3–4 of 1989. The Chinese government reported nearly 241 fatalities (including military) and 7,000 injuries; however, the majority of other estimates place the death toll substantially higher. In 2017, newly released UK documents revealed that a diplomatic cable from then-British Ambassador to China, Sir Alan Donald, had said that 10,000 had died. The government has generally tried to censor mentions of the occurrence throughout the years and to make the matter worse, Chinese defence minister, Wei Fenghe in 2019 had even told a regional forum that “stopping the turbulence was the correct policy” and that the way in which China had reacted to quell the mounting protests had brought peace and stability in the region.
Hereafter, instead of any progress in its human rights policies, China deteriorated to an abysmal record in recent years with its suppression of Uyghur minorities, who are majorly concentrated in the Occupied East-Turkistan region (Xinjiang province) of China and where majorly muslims reside with their lineage tracing to Turkish roots. Throughout 2020, China’s human rights situation kept becoming worse with respect to these ethnic minorities. Evidence of pervasive and significant violations against the Uyghur Muslims and restrictions on the freedom of press, the right to free speech, and the right to practise any religion or belief continued. Along with these, what persisted was the Chinese limitations on the functioning of civil society as well as the incarceration and poor treatment of human rights defenders (HRDs).
Over a million Uyghurs and people from other ethnic minorities were detained in “political re-education camps,” according to leaked and publicly available Chinese government documents, satellite imagery analysis, and eyewitness’ accounts. These revelations also provided more proof of the region’s expanding prison network. The recent “Xinjiang Police files” released by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, with cooperation from 13 media outlets from a total of 10 countries, revealed that China has been suppressing its Muslim minority, the Uyghur people, for years and has been committing an act of genocide in the process.
Many Uyghurs groups and individuals have been branded as terrorists and extremists and the state has planned their secret elimination. It adds to the growing body of proof regarding Beijing’s violent, protracted campaign against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. Particularly disturbing is the look at the detainees and the conditions they endure in the facilities provided by the thousands of images that scream their story through mug shots.
Since 2018, several international organizations too have reported widespread detention of Uyghurs in China, a fact that China has consistently denied over the years. According to its own state report which rather paints an optimistic picture, “Uyghurs are receiving vocational training to improve their skills along with measures for “de-radicalization” and “counter-terrorism” facilities”. Addressing the plight of Uyghurs, the United Nations too has stated that it had “identified habits of unlawful detention, coercive work conditions, forced labour, forced sterilisation and a deterioration of social and cultural rights” for these ethnic minorities, along with the fact that the UN, until recently, could not gain “unrestricted access” to the region of Xingjiang where these people are tortured and kept in detention camps.
When Michelle Bachelet visited China, as U.N. high commissioner for human rights, and published her office’s assessment of the rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, or XUAR, she asserted that China “may have committed crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups under the pretext of counterterrorism and counter-extremism measures.
However, any prominent attempt by international organisations and other nations, to monitor and address the situation has always been obstructed by the incumbent authorities in China which eventually speaks volumes about the illegitimate stance of China on human rights issues. Thus, undoubtedly, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is one of the worst violators of human rights in the world and because of this, the world faces a unique problem in developing effective responses to human rights abuses in China.
According to Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell, who in their book “China’s Search for Security”, have pointed out, the maintenance of China’s domestic stability and the protection of China’s sovereignty as the two main concerns of CCP in terms of foreign policy, the violations of human rights are absolutely justified by the Chinese authorities as a response to obstacles that stand in the way of these two objectives. Thus, given the severity of the atrocities and abuses that Uyghurs as a minority are subjected to in China, it becomes all the more essential for the entire international community to take a hard stance against China by penalising it and using a “Name and Shame” strategy to delegitimise its activities so that the lives of millions of Uyghurs can be saved from rigorous persecution.
- Bachelet, M. (2022, May 27). Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet after official visit to Ukraine. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements/2022/05/statement-un-high-commissioner-human-rights-michelle-bachelet-after-official
- Foreign Policy. (2022, May 25). China’s Xinjiang Crackdown Is a Human Rights Crisis. https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/05/25/china-xinjiang-uyghur-human-rights/
- VOA News. (2022, March 11). UN Urged to Act on China’s Reported Rights Violations in Xinjiang. https://www.voanews.com/a/un-urged-to-act-on-china-s-reported-rights-violations-in-xinjiang-/6757511.html
- Human Rights Watch. (2021). Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots: China’s Crimes against Humanity Targeting Uyghurs and Other Turkic Muslims. https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/19/break-their-lineage-break-their-roots/chinas-crimes-against-humanity-targeting
- ORF. (2022, May 23). The Need for a Strategy to Counter China’s Human Rights Violations. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/the-need-for-a-strategy-to-counter-chinas-human-rights-violations/
The report has been authored by-
School of International Studies,
Jawaharlal Nehru University