Uyghur Human Rights Project deeply troubled by Amazon’s business with Dahua

For immediate release

April 28, 2020 03:32 pm EST

Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) +1 (202) 790-1795, (703) 217-7266

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is deeply concerned that online retail giant Amazon has purchased nearly $10 million worth of thermal cameras from a Chinese surveillance company with direct links to mass detention and the creation of a highly invasive surveillance state in the Uyghur region of China.

Zhejiang Dahua Technology (Dahua) is the primary supplier of video surveillance products and services to the Chinese government, and has won over $1 billion in Chinese government-backed contracts in the Uyghur region since 2016.

Its products have been used to monitor and suppress Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other religious and ethnic groups, including the mass arbitrary detention of an estimated 1.8 million in internment camps. The issue has been repeatedly raised by human rights groups, the European Union, and the United Nations.

UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat said in response to the report: “It is unconscionable that Amazon thinks working with a company complicit in crimes against humanity is even remotely appropriate.” Kanat continued, arguing that “This crisis is no excuse to throw human rights considerations out the window—they are more useful now than ever.”

In October 2019, the US government added the company to a trade blacklist that includes seven other tech firms implicated in human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, including mass detention and surveillance.

While the UHRP fully recognizes genuine concerns relating to the safety of essential workers during the pandemic, and the significant shortage of personal protective equipment in the United States and elsewhere, we are nonetheless troubled by the ease with which Amazon and other corporations have dispensed of basic human rights considerations.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of thermal cameras as a means of Covid-19 detection remains tenuous. Experts argue that thermal cameras may be able to read skin temperature, but are an ineffective method of detecting internal body temperature that would indicate a fever and a possible infection.

Likewise, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated, in relation to the use of thermal cameras for travelers, that “temperature screening alone may not be very effective as it may miss travelers incubating the disease or travelers concealing fever during travel, or it may yield false positive (fever of a different cause).”

Given these considerations, it is wholly inappropriate that any international company do business with Dahua or any Chinese company with clear links to what the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide has called crimes against humanity.

As emergency measures have extended the reach of government and private-sector actors even further into our personal lives, it is the responsibility of elected leaders to take corresponding steps following the crisis to ensure that surveillance and monitoring on this scale does not become commonplace.

As the Covid-19 crisis develops, it is incumbent upon civil society and the international community to remain vigilant and resist behaviors that serve to reinforce discrimination and repression in China and elsewhere.