Does the international community have a collective conscience? Could it act effectively if presented with evidence of massive human rights abuse? Regrettably, when you review the numerous reports and testimonies concerning persecution of the Uyghurs by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the inescapable conclusion is that both questions are answered in the negative.
With the liberation by the Allies of the Nazi concentration camps at the end of the second world war, the horrors of the Holocaust were fully apparent. The principal moral lesson to which the civilised world supposedly committed, was ‘Never Again’. At a minimum this means not being silent, not looking away, but calling out and intervening whenever major ethno-national or religious persecution occurs.
Given the history of the Jewish people, there is a moral imperative for us to speak out. So, the Australian Jewish Association (AJA) held a virtual event on 2 December with Ramila Chanisheff, President of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association, an intelligent, articulate and indeed courageous woman who has become by default an advocate for the Uyghurs suffering under CCP authority.
It is estimated more than 1,500,000 Uyghurs in East Turkistan, also known as Xinjiang Province, have been rounded up by CCP officials into re-education, detention, or concentration camps.
While the Holocaust stands alone in nature and magnitude, there are some disturbing characteristics of what is happening to the Uyghurs today which are reminiscent of the Holocaust.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) estimated in September 2020 that there are 380 suspected detention facilities in the Xinjiang region based on analysis of satellite imagery, interviews with eyewitnesses, media reports and official documents. The Chinese state-controlled newspaper Global Times has since reported that ASPI contributors Clive Hamilton and Alex Joske have been banned from entering the country.
In July last year, US Customs and Border Protection intercepted a 13-tonne shipment from China of products suspected of being made of human hair harvested from the Uyghurs. A CNN investigation found a website in China openly selling Uyghur hair.
Many of the detention facilities are located near major manufacturing plants where goods are produced for export to Western consumers. A Business and Human Rights Resource Centre report has identified 83 major brands implicated in the use of forced labour from ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Industries involved include clothing, fashion, footwear, electronics, motor vehicle parts, etc.
This matter is about to become an issue for Australian legislators. Draft legislation spearheaded by Senator Rex Patrick would ban products made by Uyghur slave labour. On 10 December, the Senate referred the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020 to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee for inquiry. Public submissions are open to 5 February and the committee is to report by 12 May 2021. This is an important initiative which will test the moral fibre of our parliament.
Mr Nury Turkel, US Commissioner on International Religious Freedom, in a television interview in September, spoke of a deliberate Chinese policy to ‘stamp out Uyghur’s ethno-national identity’. Allegations have emerged of Uyghur families being forcibly separated, Uyghur mosques, cultural and community facilities being destroyed and children sent to schools for focussed Chinese-only education. Investigative journalists have taken videos of Uyghur children singing and calling out slogans of loyalty to the Chinese communist leaders and regime. Official Xinjiang figures show a decline in the Uyghur birth rate although Chinese authorities deny stories of forced sterilisations.
There are harrowing testimonies of some who have left detention facilities, often dual nationals who have made it into Kazakhstan or Turkey. They relate experiences of family separations, forced or slave labour and intense re-education. The Turkic language and Uyghur culture are prohibited and replaced by Han Chinese and the need for complete CCP loyalty. There are firsthand reports of gross mistreatment of the detained Uyghurs including allegation of rapes of both women and men by camp guards.
The allegations and evidence of an organ harvesting industry in China are particularly chilling. Radio Free Asia has reported in detail of the conversion of a hospital into a detention facility in Aksu in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Analysis of images suggest the creation of a ‘green corridor’ for possible rapid transport of organs to Aksu airport as well as construction of a nearby crematorium and cemetery.
In mid-2019 an independent tribunal sitting in London concluded that the killing of detainees in China for organ transplants is continuing and victims include imprisoned followers of the Falun Gong movement. The China Tribunal was chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who was a prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and it delivered a unanimous conclusion that forced organ harvesting was occurring. Both former Falun Gong and Uyghur inmates gave testimony of undergoing repeated medical testing including blood tests. Waiting times for transplantation offered by hospitals in China were extraordinarily low, the tribunal noted, often only a couple of weeks.
Although Uyghurs are predominantly Muslims, not one Islamic country has offered asylum to their brethren in China. Why? The only explanation we have received is, as Australia is experiencing, China has considerable economic muscle and is prepared to use it aggressively.
When the AJA event was held on 2 December it was attacked by one of the ‘Zoom-bomb’ techniques. During the event we received hundreds of obscene, abusive messages. Who would do this? We have been advised that local ‘ChiComs’ are very active and well resourced and the sort of people in Australia loyal to the CCP who would disrupt a demonstration on any of our university campuses in support of Hong Kong democracy, were the likely culprits.
Numerous aspects of what is happening to the Uyghur community in China are clearly in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and therefore a crime against humanity. So, it is nothing short of disgraceful that on 14 October 2020 China was re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council.
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Dr David Adler is President of the Australian Jewish Association
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