China is committing ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang – it's time for the world to stand up
  • Mon, 11/05/2018 - 00:00

Frances Eve
Fri 2 Nov 2018 20.00 EDT

Now is the time to act on China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang. China’s efforts to destroy the ethnic Uighur identity through mass internment camps and militarised surveillance must be raised loudly and clearly condemned during a UN human rights review of China on Tuesday in Geneva.

Countries afraid of standing up to China on their own can speak out on 6 November on a UN platform, known as the universal periodic review (UPR), where all countries equally take turns to be scrutinised by their peers about every four years. The UPR tests UN member states’ commitment to promoting and protecting human rights, but more pragmatically, it gives governments a shield to protect themselves when speaking up.

These countries are at less risk of China angrily cutting economic or political ties if they criticise its policies in Xinjiang as a part of a UN process. As peers, their opinion carries more weight with the Chinese government than the NGOs, journalists, and academics who have been sounding the alarm for months. A clear, collective voice from dozens of countries at this critical juncture in China’s crackdown on Xinjiang could make the Chinese government pause and rethink its approach.

So far, governments have been slow to react to the human rights disaster in China’s far western Xinjiang region. Its sheer scale demands immediate international action. An estimated one million Uighurs and other Muslims minorities are believed to be held in extra-legal detention centres in Xinjiang because of their ethno-religious identity, with torture and ill-treatment rife in the camps. Authorities in partnership with tech companies have developed and deployed dystopian surveillance technologies to turn the rest of Xinjiang into an open-air prison.

In August, the UN committee on racial discrimination described Xinjiang as a “massive internment camp shrouded in secrecy”. The US congressional-executive commission on China said the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang might amount to crimes against humanity. The UK government recently confirmed reports of internment camps for Uighur Muslims following a visit to the region by British diplomats.