Violations of the Rights of Uyghur People
United Nations Report Catalogues Violations of the Rights of Uyghur People
Ottawa: September 2, 2022: The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) recently published its long-awaited report on suspected human rights violations perpetrated against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities (including the Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Mongol, and Tajik peoples), in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The assessment comes in response to alarm bells raised by other UN bodies, including the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The heart of the UN concern lies in the determination that China’s laws related to terrorism and extremism are vague and could include, in the definition of terrorist activities, legitimate protests, religious activities and acts of dissent. These legitimate activities are protected human rights under the UN’s human rights conventions and should not be criminalized.
The UN further asserts that, even if claims of terrorism are founded in truth, ‘effective counter-terrorism and counter-violent extremism measures on the one hand, and the protection of human rights on the other, are not conflicting goals, but complementary and mutually reinforcing’.
Overall, the report cites a number of violations of the human rights of Muslim minorities including, but not limited to:
· Public security organs are permitted to detain individuals for up to 37 days before any review on whether the arrest is warranted takes place;
· Accepted signs of criminal ‘extremism’ include: wearing hijabs and “abnormal” beards, closing restaurants during Ramadan, using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), social media and the Internet to teach scriptures and preach, and giving a child a Muslim name;
· The placement in so-named ‘Vocational Education and Training Centres’ is not voluntary and occurs without proper free and informed consent;
· Restrictions of liberty occurred for arbitrary reasons, including: having too many children, being an “unsafe person,” being born in certain years, being an ex-convict, wearing a veil or beard, and having applied for a passport and not having left the country;
· Indications that any type of violation of law committed by a Muslim is presumptively “extremist”, with parent severe punishment for minor criminal convictions.
The report rejects the educational assertations surrounding ‘Vocational Education and Training Centres’ noting that it is the nature of the facility and not it’s title which determines whether a violation of human rights has occurred. In the case of the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities, the ‘deprivation of liberty occurs when a person “is being held without his or her free consent”… A deprivation of liberty, within the meaning of international human rights law, can occur in any type of location and does not need to be officially labelled as such.’
In addition to the deprivation of liberty, many former detainees report treatment that would amount to torture or other forms of ill-treatment, both during interrogations and as punishment, as well as during the course of their detention. This includes punishment for speaking their own language, and for practicing their own religious and cultural practices. Throughout their incarceration, survivors tell a story of constant hunger, mistreatment and sexual violence resulting in long-lasting physical and mental harm.
Secrecy continues to surround the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The UN is unable to ascertain how many Uyghurs have been detained but estimates state that as much as 20% of the adult “ethnic population” in affected counties and townships were subjected to some form of detention between 2017 and 2018 alone.
While circumstances and historical considerations are not identical, as we respond with vigorous condemnation to this new report, we in Canada cannot disguise some uncomfortable similarities between the re-education process of Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Canada’s own history of residential schools.
The report reads as a tale of persecution and suffering, as a sanctioned programme to destroy a culture and heritage. It reads as a condemnation of human rights abuses couched in a veil of education and improvement.
As we in Canada acknowledge the long failure of our institutions in protecting our own Indigenous peoples from such abuses, we must fully accept our moral obligations as we continue our own path to reconciliation. To do otherwise would make us complicit in hypocrisy and dishonesty.
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