The world needs to make China pay for its maltreatment of the Uyghurs
(RNS) — Just minutes before her tenure ended on Wednesday (Aug. 31), United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s office published a report on human rights concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the area set aside by China for the ethnically distinct and majority-Muslim Uyghurs. It details the wicked nature of now-notorious Chinese detention camps where more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are being held — all under the pretext of countering religious extremism.
The report provides extensive proof of torture, ethnic cleansing and forced disappearance under the guise of “re-education,” the Chinese Communist Party’s term for what the world simply refers to as concentration camps. This report should lead to action that counters the CCP’s human rights abuses. We can’t stop short of meaningful accountability.
We know what inaction looks like. The genocide of the ethnic Rohingya Muslim population in Burma has resulted in tens of thousands of dead, tortured, raped and displaced people. There was no shortage of international outrage, and just this past August, the U.S. State Department released a statement in support of “advancing justice and accountability for Rohingya and all the people of Burma in solidarity with the victims and survivors.”
But the genocide has continued undisturbed for more than five years. The international community’s determination wasn’t enough, and it continues to fail to take action to stop the genocide.
Or look to the plight of the Palestinian people under occupation. For decades, they have been victims of an Israeli apartheid regime that employs inhumane tactics — most recently on display in this summer’s deadly assault on Gaza that left 16 children dead. Resolutions condemning Israeli human rights abuses are regularly brought to the floor of the U.N.’s General Assembly and approved by unanimous votes, only to be stifled by the veto power of the United States, a member of the U.N. Security Council.
But condemnations, declarations of solidarity and general sympathy constitute a bare minimum unworthy of the name action. The evil done to these Muslim populations deserves more honorable, practical and urgent opposition. The plight of the Uyghurs requires immediate action, despite behemoth China’s economic hegemony.
But we must do more. Unified action against any state is difficult, and boycotting China is further complicated by the country’s powerful grasp on the international economy. During the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the human rights community called for an international diplomatic boycott of the CCP, one that would enforce meaningful accountability for the surreal establishment of concentration camps in the 21st century. The United States and a few allies signed on, but the games went on with little discernible effect.
However, there is precedent. Late last year, Congress passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with bipartisan support. The legislation allows the U.S. to block imports of goods from China made by Uyghurs and others imprisoned in camps in the country’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
It’s high time for states, international and regional organizations, and those in positions of influence to enact change by confronting the CCP on their egregious human rights abuses. Unlike other hegemonic powers that enjoy the benefits of cultural diplomacy, China’s influence on the international stage is largely economical. In support of our Uyghur brothers and sisters who continue to suffer from ethnic cleansing, it is time to challenge the CCP where it matters most.