For years, the Uyghur people living in the Xinjiang region of western China have endured brutality at the hands of the Chinese government. Many have been “subjected to reeducation camps, forced labor, and even forced sterilization in women.” In January 2021, “[then] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an official determination that the People’s Republic of China is ‘committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, for targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.’” The Biden administration affirmed that determination shortly after.
On Aug. 31, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner followed suit by releasing a long-awaited report detailing the Chinese government’s “serious human rights violations” in Xinjiang. In the report, we find more of what we’ve known for years: the Chinese government’s actions include oppression, ethnic and religious persecution, and “may constitute crimes against humanity.”
As the ERLC outlined in a previous article,
Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, China’s western-most territory, where Uyghurs have lived for centuries. Under the guise of national security, the CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. Life for many Uyghurs is a living nightmare.
OHCHR report findings
The 48-page report is organized into eight sections, the bulk of which outline the extent by which the CCP’s crimes are being carried out. Under the guise of “countering terrorism and extemism,” as the report states, the Chinese government is actively subjecting those they deem to be “suspects” and “at risk persons” to “imprisonment and other deprivations of liberty” at facilities which the CCP conveniently refers to as “vocational education and training centres.” The conditions and treatment of the persons detained at these centers, as described by former detainees, are horrific.
The report goes on to outline what it refers to as “other human rights concerns,” which includes the mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities; a disregard for people’s right to privacy and freedom of movement through “extensive forms of intensive surveillance and control” by the CCP; violations of reproductive rights, including forced abortions and sterilizations; and forced labor. Further, the report sheds light on what it calls “family separations, enforced disappearances, intimidations, threats, and reprisals,” saying that “the widespread arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities in XUAR, often shrouded in secrecy, has led to many families being separated and unaware of the whereabouts of their loved ones.” Victims of the CCP’s persecution and their relatives are routinely subjected to criticisms, intimidations, threats, and reprisals for speaking about their experiences in Xinjiang.
Detention center conditions and treatment
Based on what we’ve learned about the CCP’s “systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims,” the OHCHR report’s assessment of “adverse conditions and harsh treatment of detainees by the authorities in the VETC (Vocational Education and Training Centres) facilities” is sadly unsurprising. Of the former detainees who were interviewed for the report, two-thirds of them “reported having been subjected to treatment that would amount to torture and/or other forms of ill-treatment.” They describe “being beaten with batons, including electric batons; being subjected to interrogation with water being poured in their faces; prolonged solitary confinement; and being forced to sit motionless on small stools for prolonged periods of time.” They, likewise, describe being beaten, shackled, starved, deprived of sleep, forbidden from praying or otherwise practicing their religion, forbidden from speaking their native language, and being subjected to compulsory political indoctrination.
In addition, detainees report having pills and/or injections “administered regularly, as well as blood samples being regularly collected” during their detainment. Many endured sexual violence, including rape and forced nudity. Due to these harsh conditions and treatment, persistent health issues were prevalent, including psychological distress and “stress and anxiety.” Many people who were interviewed reported “long-term psychological consequences from their periods of confinement at VETC facilities, including feelings of trauma.”
OHCHR assessment and recommendations
The final section of the OHCHR report opens by saying, emphatically, that
Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR in the context of the Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-“extremism” strategies. The implementation of these strategies, and associated policies in XUAR has led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights. These patterns of restrictions are characterized by a discriminatory component, as the underlying acts often directly or indirectly affect Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities.
After a lengthy list of items outlining its assessment, the OHCHR report proceeds to outline a list of recommendations, both to the government of China and to the international business community. Its recommendations to the Chinese government include:
- The immediate release of “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in XUAR, whether in VETCs, prisons or other detention facilities.”
- A full review of the legal framework governing national security, counter-terrorism and minority rights in XUAR to ensure their compliance with binding international human rights law, and urgently repeal all discriminatory laws, policies and practices against Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities in XUAR.
- A prompt investigation into allegations of human rights violations in VETCs and other detention facilities, including allegations of torture, sexual violence, ill-treatment, forced medical treatment, as well as forced labour and reports of deaths in custody.
To the international business community, the OHCHR’s recommendations encourage a strengthened and concerted effort “to respect human rights across activities and business relationships,” to “strengthen human rights risk assessments,” and to “support efforts to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights in the XUAR region.”
Upon the report’s publication, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded by saying, “The United States welcomes this important report, which describes authoritatively the appalling treatment and abuses of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” Furthermore, Blinken said,
We will continue to work closely with our partners, civil society, and the international community to seek justice and accountability for the many victims. We will continue to hold the PRC to account and call on the PRC to release those unjustly detained, account for those disappeared, and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Tibet, and across the PRC.
How is the ERLC involved?
Over the past several years, the ERLC and Southern Baptist messengers have advocated extensively for Uyghurs and raised awareness for the plight they face. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention “became the first Christian faith group to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide” when, in June 2021, “messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting passed a resolution” condemning “the actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur people.”
The ERLC remains resolved to “stand together with these people against the atrocities committed against them, to call upon the CCP to cease its program of genocide against the Uyghur people immediately, restore to them their full God-given rights, and put an end to their captivity and systematic persecution and abuse.” We will continue our work of advocating for the Uyghur people, “pray[ing] for [them] as they suffer under such persecution,” and praying for those who work to bring “the Uyghur people physical aid and the message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, so they can experience the freedom found only in Christ.”