Re-education camps also known as Orwell’s brainwashing centres 

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) or East Turkistan, in the north-western part of China now enjoys harmony in the constant watch of Big Brother. On a deeper look, the region has established buildings known as De-extensification or Re-education camps for the purpose of controlling three evil forces that are Islamic extremism, Ethnic Separatism, and Terrorism. The two terms ‘Islamic extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ are commonly used against ethnic minorities especially for the Turkish-speaking Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. 

These camps also known as ‘no-rights zones’ are structurally similar to what Michel Foucault in his book ‘Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of a Prison’ describes as Panopticons used for the purpose of surveillance in a modern-day police state. Foucault explains how one is subjected to surveillance as, ‘He is seen, but they cannot see; he is an object of information, never a subject in communication.’ 

One of the award-winning Uyghur journalists, Hoja revealed that more than 1.5 million Uyghurs are held in internment in Xinjiang since 2017. In 2019, New York Times published 400 pages of leaked internal documents of the government on the ‘transformation policies’ for Uyghurs for those infected with religious virus

The manhunt against Uyghurs began in 1999 when the government launched the economic initiative known as the Great West LeapThe initiative was meant to integrate ethnic minorities of Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims with the majority of Han Chinese population. However, the ulterior aim was something else. First, it diluted the ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang with Han Chinese population dramatically. The Han Chinese influx caused disparaging inequalities to the ethnic minorities in the labour markets as they were left with low-skilled jobs that were barely enough for sustenance and this became the main source of ethnic discontent.  Secondly, mass-scale migration helped China in the territorial gain of Xinjiang. Xinjiang is the largest growing base of cotton in the country, extremely rich in mineral deposits, and crucially important for the Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative

However, for the ethnic minorities, the migration was simply an act of invasion that left them with the legacy of destitute. After the sporadic violence of 2009 riots in Urumqi and an attack in 2014, the government began to view the existence of ethnic minorities as seditious. They adopted high-tech policing methods that are military-based mass surveillance systems known as the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). The IJOP application used by security officers allow predictive profiling of Uyghurs as suspected criminal, collect biometrics, and other sensitive details that completely restricts their freedom of movement.   

China alleged of Demographic Genocide

Earlier, the existence of the indoctrination camps was categorically denied by China; however, they were later justified in the name of counterterrorism by euphemistically calling them free vocational centers.  Inside the camps, Uyghurs are separated from their families and are forced to renounce their religion. China is yet to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, the country is under an obligation to guarantee rights including the right to exercise one’s religion that is recognized as peremptory norms that are protected unconditionally even in a situation of public emergency as per Article 4.2 of ICCPR. Article 18 of ICCPR that enshrines the Right to thought, conscience, and religion is read with Article 27 to protect the religious faith of minorities and any advocacy of hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination under Article 20.2 of ICCPR; another absolute obligation.

Adrian Zenz called out against the birth control measures adopted by China on Uyghur women as Demographic Genocide. The report titled ‘Sterilization, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control: The CCP’s Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birth rates in Xinjiang’ exposes harrowing accounts of unwarranted interference into the reproductive autonomy of Uyghur women that would inevitably result in the physical disappearance of the Uyghur population. Between 2015 and 2018, the natural growth rate in the two largest regions of Uyghur Muslims has declined by 84%. In 2019 around 80% of the women will be subjected to intrusive birth prevention surgeries such as sterilization or intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD). According to Karakax list any violation of birth control policies is punishable with extrajudicial incarceration. 

These measures constitute an act of Genocide that is committed with the special intent or dolus specialis to destroy, in whole or in parts a religious group that includes imposing measures intended to prevent the birth of the group constitutes under Article 2(d) the Genocide Convention. Forced sterilization violates the buddle of human rights such as freedom and movement, sexual autonomy, and privacy as held in I.V v. Bolivia. Moreover, it constitutes crime against humanity under Article 7(1)(g) of the Rome Statute and is prohibited under Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Article 39 of the Istanbul Convention.

Cherif Bassiouni recognizes international crimes as a Jus Cogen norm that carries an obligation erga omnes (universally accepted obligations) including the universality of jurisdiction over such crimes irrespective of where they are committed and to not grant impunity to the perpetrator. Moreover, a series of acts that are not in conformity with the obligation of a state in international law attributes state responsibility under the 2001 Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts.

Moreover, less attention has been attributed to ‘United as One Family’ project that is aimed at destroying the social and cultural fabric of Uyghur families by declaring Han Chinese as their relatives. The conduct of the ‘relatives’ are governed through instructed guidelines and are supposed to teach secular values to Uyghur families. In an interview, some Uyghurs describe themselves as feeling infantilized and stripped of their dignity on the arrival of their relatives. This deliberately inflicts mental/psychological harm on the group although the threshold might not have attained the standard required for the purpose of attributing the crime of Genocide.

In another report released by Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the re-education camps have entered into a new phase wherein Uyghurs are forcibly engaged in factories for cheap labour or labour assignments. The report estimates more than 80, 000 Uyghurs between 2017 and 2019 have been transferred in special segregated trains to factories across countries under its state-sponsored labour transfer scheme. Shockingly, more than 82 brands with global supply chain including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Nike have engaged Uyghurs under abusive working conditions with excessive working hours. Moreover, they are paid less than their counterparts, and are not allowed to go home. China has ratified the Slavery Convention that recognises forced labour analogous to modern-day slavery.

Unarguably, a crime does not attain the status of Genocide all at once. It starts as a process. A reference can be made to the hate speech delivered by Hitler in 1939 and the hate propaganda broadcasted by radio stations against Tutsi community. All these measures coupled with the hate speeches made by President Jinping in 2014 wherein he urged the party officials to use the organs of dictatorship and show absolutely no mercy against Uyghur Muslims signifies that the crime of Genocide has been committed. These speeches do not follow the standard of proportionality, necessity, and legality and hence are not compatible with the right to expression as held in Faurisson v. France

Way forward 

Recently, Barrister Geoffrey Nice, who previously led the prosecution of ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic have constituted an independent tribunal in London to investigate the crime of Genocide. According to Nice, the strongest possible evidence to initiate an investigation would be the evidence of incarceration and forced sterilization which is already revealed in Adrian’s report. Moreover, a complaint has been filed in the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court by the East Turkistan Government in Exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening movement to open an investigation against China for committing Genocide and Crime against humanity on Uyghurs. 

Moreover, OTP can initiate an investigation based on the decision of the Pre-Trial Chambers I and III in reference to the Rohingya Genocide. It was clarified that the court may assert jurisdiction over international crimes under Article 12(2) (a) of the Rome Statute as coercive acts of perpetrators that took place in Myanmar have forced the population to cross borders in Bangladesh who is a signatory to the Rome statute (para.43). This judgement could pave a way for investigation as the crimes committed by China has certainly transcended to the territories of Tajikistan and Cambodia; both are a signatory to the statute. However, this seems unlikely because Cambodia has violated its non-Refoulement obligation previously by deporting Uyghurs. Moreover, Cambodia and Tajikistan are amongst the countries that have backed the policies of China for Uyghurs through the mandate of human rights council while the western countries have shown their dismay.

The United States has taken a proactive step by implementing the human rights policy act of 2020 that allows the country to impose sanctions and visa restrictions. The U.S.A. should now more than ever exercise its right to early warning and urgent action procedure under Article 11 of the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination as a preventive measure before it’s too late.

Authored by: Gursimran Kaur Bakshi, Penultimate Year Student
National University of Study & Research in Law, Ranchi

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