WUC 2014 Report on Human Rights Violations in East Turkestan
The World Uyghur Congress has just published its annual report on human rights violations in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), China, and can be read or downloaded here. The report focuses on the most significant concerns that faced the Uyghur people in 2014, who continue to live under increasingly repressive state policies. As 2014 has been a year of particular concern for human rights among Uyghurs, we have provided a detailed overview of abuses as well as some practical avenues for progress to reduce the heavy burden that has fallen on the Uyghur people.
Detentions have been on the rise, with thousands having been arrested since the introduction of China’s newest one-year anti-terror campaign initiated back in May, 2014. Arrests in East Turkestan doubled to over 27 thousand as compared to 2013, as a direct result of the new campaign.
The widening definition of terrorism and its related activities has also become a greater concern and has opened the door for widespread abuses. Sophie Richardson, China Director of Human Rights Watch, in an article criticising the new law, argued that “in its present form this law is little more than a license to commit human rights abuses. The draft needs to be completely overhauled and brought in line with international legal standards”.
The international community has spoken out against these practices and these concerns have been well-met by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1456 which details that states must “ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, and should adopt such measures in accordance with international law”. There has been little or no indication that the Chinese government has remained respectful of these principles, instead relying on its own obstinacy as a guide.
In brief, the report touches on, among other things, the following themes:
- Extra-judicial killing of Uyghurs – particularly during peaceful protests.
- Arbitrary detention of Uyghurs – typically under the guise of counter-terrorism.
- The continued use of the death penalty, despite short and opaque trial periods.
- “Strike Hard” campaign beginning in May.
- The trial and sentencing of Ilham Tohti and students on separatism charges.
- The right to refugee/asylum status without fear of rendition.
- Discrimination at the religious, linguistic and cultural level.
- Freedom of movement within East Turkestan and China generally.
- Transparency and accountability at the legal level.
- Accountability for police and security forces’ abuses.
The report outlines every known incident in 2014 which that involved Uyghurs which resulted in the death of at least one party. It must also be stressed, however, that despite some modest international coverage of the conflict, Chinese state media are typically the first to release information regarding incidents that result in casualties. Incidents ranging from one death to the Yarkand massacre, which resulted in a death toll of potentially thousands have been meticulously collected and documented.
Along with deadly incidents, another significant section of the report looks at cases of arbitrary arrests in East Turkestan. Although the list is not exhaustive, as information is notoriously difficult to come by, it serves to illustrate the extent of the problem and the nature of the Chinese approach to dissent.
The report also outlines those death sentences that were doled out by the Chinese authorities throughout the year and focuses on some of the significant problems in relation to its application. Most troubling has been the absence of transparency or proper observance of internationally recognized legal procedures.
China also introduced new legislation in November, 2014, which came into effect in January, ostensibly targeting religious extremism. The new laws prohibit children under the age of 18 from attending religious services or from entering mosques to pray. Likewise, public service employees remain barred from religious practice during working hours and were most recently prohibited from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan in July. The wearing of traditional headscarves and other religious dress as well as men donning beards has also been restricted.
The report also focuses on other critical issues such as religious and cultural repression, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of movement, and of speech. Dissenting opinions are also quickly quashed and Uyghurs have been effectively silenced, with increasing fear of speaking out against the government. China has only moved further away from compliance with internationally recognized norms in relation to civil and political rights, despite being urged to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
We also looked to provide relevant and practical recommendations going forward into 2015 that may be taken into legitimate consideration on the part of the international community including international organizations, NGOs and other civil society groups, along with all states as well as the Chinese authorities.
In its recommendations, the report stresses the importance of constructive and mediated dialogue to serve as the precipitant of meaningful progress. We cannot allow 2014 to be filed away with other state abuses, but must be confronted head-on.