Rights groups called on the international community to “stand up to the Chinese government” over rights violations against Uyghurs, Tibetans and other ethnic minorities Monday in a joint statement marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The 21 groups—including Munich-based World Uyghur Congress and U.S.-based International Tibet Network—called China a United Nations member state that “stands out as a significant exception against the advancement of human rights,” highlighting its policies over the past year in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where Uyghurs have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR, and some 1.1 million people are believed to have been held in the network—equating to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region.
The groups said Monday that China’s escalation against the Uyghur people in the last year under Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo “surely qualifies as one of the most audacious and outrageous assaults against a people, anywhere in the world” since the UDHR was enacted by the U.N. on Dec. 10, 1948 and established, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
They also highlighted China’s rights abuses in Tibet, which they referred to as “China’s laboratory for repression … where the Chinese authorities have tested, and sought to perfect, systems of mass surveillance and abject control” over the course of decades, and particularly under Chen, who ran Tibet from 2011 up until his appointment to oversee the XUAR in 2016.
Ethnic Mongolians in China’s Inner Mongolia are also subject to “tightening political control,” the groups said, where Beijing’s policies are “threatening the total eradication of the Mongolian traditional nomadic civilization,” and where thousands of herders seeking to defend their way of life and rights to land and natural resources have been detained without due legal process.
Even lawyers and activists from China’s majority Han Chinese population have endured politically motivated prosecutions, while freedoms in Hong Kong have “taken a sharp downward turn” as China influences harsher sentences on dissidents and disqualifies pro-democracy lawmakers from the legislature, they noted.
But the groups said that as China attempts to repress these people, the more their resistance grows, and called for the international community to “follow their example and stand up to the Chinese government.”
“Like-minded world governments need to get together and formally engage in joint initiatives to defend … human rights, democracy and free speech and stand up to Beijing as one,” the groups said.
Additional calls for pressure
Concerns in Monday’s statement were echoed in a report issued by U.S.-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), which also identified Chen as the architect of repressive policies in the XUAR modeled on those he had rolled out as party boss in Tibet.
“In framing ethnic (Tibetan and later Uyghur) identity as a threat to national security, Chen pursued a two-pronged approach to manage the threat of ethnic identity: He launched a campaign to accelerate assimilation by ‘breaking ethnic lineages and cultural roots,’ and he built a sophisticated and coercive security architecture to enforce assimilation,” ICT said in a statement accompanying its report.
“Chen’s strategy to isolate Tibetans from the outside world, sow distrust and fear in communities, and enforce a state version of acceptable Tibetan life received positive recognition and was deemed politically capable and reliable enough for Chen to take on the difficult position of party secretary for the XUAR.”
ICT noted that while differences in religious roots and transnational links will lead to different manifestations of state repression in Tibet and the XUAR, Chen’s model of repression uses the same features of wide-scale ethnic discrimination backed by a sophisticated security network.
“On a more general level, the status of Chen’s strategy as a model of governance presents a serious challenge for Tibetans, Uyghurs and Chinese citizens who wish to express their cultural identities free from state interference,” the group said, calling on the international community to “push back in a robust manner against the Chinese government.”
In an editorial written for the Hong Kong Free Press on Monday, Louisa Greve, director of external affairs for U.S.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, invoked a passage from the UDHR which states that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
“The Chinese Communist Party, in its treatment of the Uyghurs, is actively shaking that foundation,” she said.
“While many governments have come to expect a free pass on human rights abuse, the Chinese Communist Party is among those flouting international norms with greatest confidence. Nothing more clearly illustrates the trampling of civilized values than the rounding up of Uyghurs into modern-day concentration camps.”
Greve pressed for the use of sanctions to pressure China over its rights violations in the XUAR under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act—based on an earlier act created to address human rights abuses by the Putin regime in Russia.
In late August, Republican Representative Chris Smith led a bipartisan group of nearly 20 U.S. lawmakers in writing a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, urging them to level sanctions against officials, including Chen, and entities in China deemed responsible for abusing the rights of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, the chairman of the XUAR government, Shohrat Zakir, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.
China’s state media have followed Zakir’s remarks with a massive propaganda campaign promoting the camps, while foreign reporters investigating Xinjiang have reported constant harassment by authorities. Uyghur activists called on China to prove the facilities are for vocational training by opening them up to visitors.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those held in the camps are detained against their will, are subjected to political indoctrination and rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Last week, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are “at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million” of Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.
Citing credible reports, U.S. lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, recently called the situation in the XUAR “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”