The gravest of crimes – crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide itself. Ongoing, perpetrators not held accountable, victims still in desperate need, U.S. complicity, indifference. All continue a long and tragic situation of too little action for crimes that are often too large to truly fathom. All demand that we speak up.
And from the internment of a million or more Uighurs in China’s Xiajiang region to death by bombs and hunger in Yemen, from Burma’s Rohingya genocide to the nearly 400,000 dead in South Sudan, you can act. In this posting on the Uighurs, and in two weeks, a second part on Yemen, Burma, and South Sudan, I recommend specific steps that you can take. Apart from ineffective expressions of condemnation, much of the world has displayed indifference. You don’t have to.
(You may notice Syria’s absence from this list. With its eight years of cruelty, crimes against humanity, and horrors, and years of Syria’s criminal ruler consolidating power and territory, if there is one bit of hope to hold on to, I think it is that there are still Syrians committed to a free and democratic Syria. Join The Syria Campaign.)
We begin in Xinjiang, the autonomous region in western China that is home to more than 11 million Uighurs. As now widely reported, as part of an explicitly ethnic-based policy that the Chinese government asserts is necessary to prevent terrorism and curtail religious extremism – which includes an unprecedented surveillance state and thorough repression of Uighurs’ Islamic practices and Uighur cultural traditions – at least 1 million and up to 2 million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims (such as Uzbeks and Kazakhs) been detained and relocated to “re-education camps.” There, “detainees are bombarded with propaganda, forced to recite slogans and sing songs in exchange for food, and pressured to renounce Muslim practices.” Torture is common, and many of those detained have died.
A very strong case can be made that the Chinese government is committing crimes against humanity. As laid out in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to qualify as crimes against humanity, the actions at issue must be “committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against any civilian population.” Specific acts prosecutable as crimes against humanity include imprisonment, enforced disappearance, and torture, as well as “[p]ersecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender…or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law” in connection with other acts may constitute crimes against humanity (e.g., torture). Of the 11 possible acts listed as potential crimes against humanity at least these four (and possible one or two others, including murder) appear to be present.
These crimes against humanity that are part of a mass detention campaign of a scope not seen in decades (though not as unspeakably brutal as neighboring North Korea’s political prison camps) have garnered condemnation, but not action. On the whole, the world – including the United States – shakes its head and gets on with business as usual, however cruel and unusual China’s policy may be. With China having the world’s largest economy, along with its geostrategic weight, human rights violations – evidently even of this immense scale – take a back seat.
Yet this need not – and must not – be the case. Indeed, two pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress that could spur the administration to end its inexcusable silence and act. One, with a growing list of co-sponsors, the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 stands to be the first U.S. policy response to these camps and related repression. It encourages the Secretary of State to sanction relevant Chinese and Xinjiang officials under the Global Magnitsky Act and to employ other targeted sanctions, and requests the Commerce Secretary to consider preventing sale of U.S. goods and services to agents of the Xinjiang government and Communist Party. The bill requires a national security report on the repression in Xinjiang, and would require FBI action to protect U.S. citizens and residents, including Uighurs, from harassment and intimidation by Chinese authorities. And it encourages that Secretary of State to establish a new position, the U.S. Special Coordinator for Xinjiang. This legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate.
The other piece of legislation, introduced in the House, is the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act of 2019. Along with notable statements of policy, the bill urges Secretary of State advocacy in meetings with Chinese officials and internationally, and requires the State Department to document the mass detention. It also encourages the administration to apply the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act – and requires the administration to report to Congress if it fails to do so to explain why not – and prohibits U.S. government agencies from procuring goods or services from entities that have facilitated the mass detention. Export restrictions would prevent U.S. technology from contributing to China’s program of mass detention. Measures in the bill also address protecting journalists and NGOs, supporting public diplomacy, protecting the Uighur’s language, protecting the Uighur diaspora, and more.
What you can do is simple. Email your members of Congress, and follow up with phone calls, to encourage them to support these pieces of legislation.
Keep your eye on this space. I will soon by writing about the crimes in Yemen, Burma, and South Sudan, and steps you can take.
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The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.