China (The Uyghurs) - Jewish World Watch | Jewish World Watch

by Mili Budhiraja      18 August 2020

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”


The authoritarian regime in China has garnered global attention as its political system is considered a concoction of heightened censorship and propaganda. The country stands as a witness to an endless trail of human rights violations that seem to grow with time. In this context, the article analyses the role of China for the gross infringement of human rights because of the persecution of ethnic Muslim minority, Uyghurs. Presently, holding China liable under international law seems like a far-fetched dream. Moreover, despite such intensified levels of atrocities and startling evidence of the same, no action has been taken against the country. In this backdrop, this article unpacks the aforementioned human rights violations in the context of the international conventions and treaties that are being infringed.


The cultural and commercial freedom of ethnic minorities is severely restricted in China. Uyghurs, a Muslim minority living in the Xinjiang region of China, has been facing discrimination and curtailment on their religious freedom. There is systematic torture being carried out against the minority community. To intensify the level of discrimination, a job differentia has been created against them.  Uyghur Muslims are employed in low-paying jobs while the Han Chinese are positioned at the higher-paying jobs, thereby advocating the viewpoint that the Uyghur Muslims are not considered equal to their Chinese counterparts.. This violates Art. 1 of Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958, that prohibits any discrimination in respect of equality of opportunity. As per Art. 8 of this Convention, its provisions will be binding upon the countries which have ratified the International Labour Organization Convention. Since China is a ratified member state, it is under an international obligation to eliminate the disparity in the occupational scenes.


Moreover, Uyghur Muslims are considered as an extremist and separatist threat by the government. China has formed de-extremification policies wherein, under the cloak of “re-education centres”, Internment Camps have been set up. A person can land up in these internment cells by committing offences like growing a beard or praying in public. The conditions inside these camps are deplorable. The hygiene and sanitation conditions are so poor that the residents have to use plastic buckets as toilets. Art. 42 of International Health Regulations mandates the states to implement measures for the maintenance of healthy conditions. But there are no punitive actions established if a country does not comply with the said regulations. China stands in clear violation of this provision. With the prevalence of the pandemic, the degrading conditions in the camps only add in humongous volumes the misery to the people facing gross human rights violations.


Uyghurs are detained in these camps, and they are forced to criticize their religious beliefs. They are made to suffer extreme forms of torture for practicing their religion. The freedom to profess religion is provided under Art. 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. By imposing restrictions on the professing of religion, China has breached the most basic human right of religious freedom. It infringes Art. 2 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities which states that the persons belonging to these minorities have a right to enjoy their culture and profess their religion. The government is systematically employing repressive measures to curb their religious freedom which essentially goes against the grain of international principles.


The Uyghur Muslims are not only being persecuted, but there is evidence of forced sterilization as well. The Rome Statute recognizes it as a war crime and crime against humanity under Articles 6, 7, and 8. The practice of imposing measures to prevent birth, committed with an intention to destroy an ethnicity, is an act of genocide under the statute. Despite the strict censorship regulations in China, there is an alarming level of satellite image proof and personal accounts of former detainees to hold China liable for these atrocities. But the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction over states who are not the signatories to the Rome Statute and sadly, China is not a party to it. China can only be taken to the court if it voluntarily submits itself to its jurisdiction. The United Nations Security Council is authorized with the power flowing from Art. 39 of the UN Charter to decide if an act is a breach of the peace or an act of aggression, and take measures to curb the same. But if the Security Council decides to take any action under Art. 41 and 42 of the UN Charter against China, which defines the measures to be taken to give effect to its decisions, it can be easily crushed by China by the use of its veto power.


The irony of the situation is that despite being the biggest abuser of human rights, China has been recently appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to select a panel of rapporteurs to investigate human rights issues all around the world. It is high time that international law shall be strictly put to use to question the incessant levels of infringement of basic human rights in China. The United Nation’s Law for Human Rights lays down that in case a human rights violation is reported, an investigation can be launched, but it cannot happen until the country in question gives its consent for the same. Without such consent, no debate can be conducted to solve the issues, and thereby, the United Nations cannot pass a resolution to condemn those acts of human rights violation.

The failure of the international law and the lacuna it is met with is evident from the way laws operate. The Rome Statute is only applicable to the contracting states. This implies that the states who are not a party to the Statute can breach the provisions against the contracting states without being liable. This invokes an unfair situation where states which abide by international law suffer at the hands of those who intentionally choose not to be a part of such treaties.

The world has turned a blind eye to the actions of the Chinese government for a long time now. These violations should be strictly condemned by international organizations and states. The nature and the jurisdictional gaps in international law shall be bridged to hold a country liable for its condemnable actions. These gaps cannot be allowed to act as a mitigating factor. Such disparities can witness the states breaching international laws and getting off scot-free in the end.

[The author is a student at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi]

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