UHRP Submits Comprehensive Report for UN Consideration of China’s Human Rights Record
July 18, 2023
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has submitted a detailed report covering human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government since 2018 for consideration by UN member states at the upcoming Universal Period Review (UPR) of China in January 2024.
UHRP’s submission focuses on forced labor, surveillance, the mass collection of biodata, forced sterilizations, depressed birth rates and other birth prevention policies, education policy, the treatment of Uyghur women and children, and China’s non-cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms and experts.
The government of China is perpetrating crimes against humanity and genocide in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region targeting Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples on the basis of religion and ethnicity.1The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a report on the human rights concerns in the Uyghur region, stated that “The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups, pursuant to law and policy, in context of restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights enjoyed individually and collectively, may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” See “OHCHR Assessment of human rights concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China,” online. The Chinese government is engaging in a systematic campaign to eradicate Uyghur culture, religion, and language through policy and practice, including the destruction of sacred cultural and religious sites such as mosques, cemeteries, and shrines,2See Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques and Shrines,” October 2019, online, and Australia Strategic Policy Institute, “Cultural erasure: Tracing the destruction of Uyghur and Islamic spaces in Xinjiang,” September 24, 2020, online. as well as marginalizing intangible cultural heritage.3Uyghur Human Rights Project (February 2023). “The Complicity of Heritage: Cultural Heritage and Genocide in the Uyghur Region,” online. The government has banned the use of Uyghur language in schools and detained and sentenced scholars wishing to establish Uyghur-language schools within the region.4Uyghur Human Rights Project (December 2021). “The Disappearance of Uyghur Intellectual and Cultural Elites: A New Form of Eliticide,” online.
Other systematic abuses include mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in order to “cleanse” detainees of “extremist” thoughts through “re-education.” Chinese government policy now includes the widespread exploitation of the labor of Uyghurs detained in internment camps and through forced labor programs.
Freedom of movement is severely restricted and Uyghurs live in a highly securitized environment with ubiquitous surveillance and monitoring. Biodata of all Uyghurs has been collected, including DNA and blood samples, fingerprints, and iris scans, without consent.5Human Rights Watch (May 1, 2019). “China’s Algorithms of Repression: Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App,” p. 23, online. Transnational repression targeting Uyghurs abroad has emerged as a means of extending control over Uyghurs living in the diaspora through harassment and intimidation.
China’s policy of forced sterilizations, coerced IUD implants, and suppression of birth-rates meets the definition of genocide under the UN Convention.6Uyghur Tribunal Judgement, December 9, 2021, online.
Civil and political rights
Prohibition of all forms of slavery
The Government of China is subjecting Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples to state imposed forced labor as part of a program including so-called “poverty alleviation,” “vocational training,” “re-education through labor,” and “de-extremification” focused on eliminating cultural and religious practices.
Forced labor transfers:At least 80,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples have been forcibly transferred from the Uyghur region to factories in eastern and central China between 2017 and 2019, and up to 1.6 million have been estimated to be at risk of forced or coercive labor through state-mandated transfers.7Adrian Zenz (March 2021). “Coercive Labor and Forced Displacement in Xinjiang’s Cross-Regional Labor Transfer Program,” Jamestown Foundation, p. 18, online. This is part of a state-sponsored transfer-of-labor scheme that goes beyond cotton and garment manufacturing sector, marketed as “Xinjiang Aid.”
Coerced labor of the rural poor in the “poverty alleviation program”: The Chinese government plans to have at least one million workers in the textile and garment sectors, with at least 650,000 coming from the Uyghur region by 2023. Regional and local government directives indicate that refusal to participate in poverty alleviation in the Uyghur region is considered a sign of the “three evils”—terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism—which are punishable by internment or imprisonment.
Forced labor of current and ex-detainees, including in internment camps: In a separate but parallel policy to China’s public poverty alleviation plan, the government has enacted a public “re-education” policy that involves internment with some vocational training, indoctrination, and finally release to factories in nearby industrial parks or camp factories. Estimates based on interviews and government statements put the number of former detainees forced to work in garment and textile factories in the hundreds of thousands.
Suggested Recommendations: (1) Swiftly bring about the end of the systematic forced labour of Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim-majority workers; and (2) provide all victims of forced labour and wider human rights violations, including Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples, with adequate and effective remedies and reparation.
Right to privacy and family life
The Chinese government has mandated extensive collection of biodata from all residents between the ages of 12 and 65 in the Uyghur region, as well as biodata from residents of all ages who are considered threatening to regime stability.8Human Rights Watch (May 1, 2019). “China’s Algorithms of Repression: Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App,” p. 23, online. This includes DNA and blood samples, fingerprints, and iris scans, all of which is collected without informed consent. Chinese authorities have collected voice samples from Uyghurs during passport application processes and at police checkpoints.
The Chinese government operates a centralized data system which stores massive amounts of data from all residents in the Uyghur region. Information logged in the system from various sources may include an individual’s physical characteristics, health information, online search history, personal behavior and relationships, and also location data of their phones, ID cards, and vehicles.9Ibid.
The Chinese government utilizes surveillance technology extensively across the Uyghur region, including through surveillance cameras with facial recognition software, often installed outside mosques and individual homes, and pairs this digital surveillance with in-person monitoring.
Surveillance and monitoring contribute to strict control over freedom of movement, from the neighborhood level to movement in and out of the country. Beginning in 2016, the government expanded physical checkpoints guarded by armed police in neighborhoods and villages across the region.10In a leaked 2018 speech by the Chinese Minister for Public Security, Zhao Zekhi noted that 7,629 “convenience police stations” have enhanced security across the region. Convenience police stations are Convenience police stations are concrete, bulletproof installations that house medical equipment, charging stations for mobile phones, umbrellas and other “convenient” community services. See Xinjiang Documentation Project, online. Around the same time, passports for all residents were confiscated and authorities began to require permission to leave the country.11Human Rights Watch (2016). “China: Passports Arbitrarily Recalled in Xinjiang,” online. A leaked document in 2020 included “applying for a passport” as one of several reasons for detention.12Uyghur Human Rights Project (February 18, 2020). “‘Ideological Transformation’: Records of Mass Detention from Qaraqash, Hotan,” p. 9, online.
The “Becoming Family” program sends Chinese officials to regularly undertake multi-day “homestays” with Uyghur families.13Ibid, pp. 16–17. The cadres, predominantly Han Chinese, visit Uyghur homes where the families are required to provide officials with information about their lives and political views, and are subjected to political indoctrination.
According to recent research, it is highly likely that the Chinese government is systematically imposing forced interethnic marriages on Uyghur women.14Uyghur Human Rights Project (November 2022). “Forced Marriage of Uyghur Women: State Policies for Interethnic Marriages in East Turkistan, online. Chinese state media videos, government sanctioned stories, and accounts from women in the diaspora offer evidence that government incentivized and forced interethnic marriages have been occurring in the Uyghur region since 2014.15Human Rights Watch (2018). “China: Visiting Officials Occupy Homes in Muslim Region,” online.
Increasingly, the Chinese government has extended control over Uyghurs living in the diaspora through transnational repression, including harassment, threats, and intimidation. This includes having assets in China frozen or seized, calls to return to China, cyberattacks, surveillance, and restrictions on movement and speech abroad. Family members and associates of Uyghurs abroad are targeted for arrest and detention.16For detailed research on transnational repression faced by Uyghurs, see Uyghur Human Rights Project, online, and Freedom House, “China: Transnational Repression Origin Country Case Study,” online.
Suggested Recommendations: (1) Stop the mass collection of all biodata and shut down databases infringing on privacy rights; (2) allow Uyghurs access to their passports and to travel unhindered in China and abroad, and immediately provide consular services to citizens abroad requesting visa and passport renewals without reprisals.
Economic, social and cultural rights
Right to health
Since 2015, Chinese officials have made efforts to reduce the birthrate of Uyghur women through coercive family planning, including forced sterilization. Authorities have planned a campaign of mass female sterilization in rural Uyghur regions, noting in official documents they wish to target 14 and 34 percent of all married women of childbearing age in two Uyghur counties that year.17Ibid. The campaign aims to permanently sterilize rural minority women with three or more children, as well as some with two children, criteria which would cover at least 20 percent of all childbearing-age women.
The birth-rate across the Uyghur region fell by nearly half (48.74 percent) from 2017 to 2019, with the largest declines in counties where Uyghur and other Turkic peoples are concentrated.18Australian Strategic Policy Institute (May 12, 2021). “Family De-planning: The Coercive Campaign to Drive Down Indigenous Birth-rates in Xinjiang,” p. 4, online. The birth- rate in counties with a 90 percent or greater Turkic population declined by 56.5 percent, on average, during that same period. For example, 99 percent of the population in Khotan County is Uyghur, and as noted by researchers relying on government data, “the county experienced a drop in birth-rate from 25.41 per thousand people in 2012 to 7.41 per thousand in 2018, or a decrease of 70.8 percent.”19Ibid, p. 11.
In 2018, 80 percent of all net added IUD placements in China were performed in the Uyghur region, despite the fact that the region only makes up 1.8 percent of the nation’s population.20Adrian Zenz (July 2020). “Sterilizations, IUDs, and Coercive Birth Prevention: The CCP’s Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birth Rates in Xinjiang,” The Jamestown Foundation, China Brief Volume: 20 Issue: 12, p. 3, online. Between 2015 and 2018, the regional government placed 7.8 times more net-added IUDs per capita than the national average.21Ibid, p.14.
Government documents show that local authorities are instructed to punish Uyghur women who “violate” birth control targets with extrajudicial internment.22Uyghur Human Rights Project (February 18, 2020). “‘Ideological Transformation’: Records of Mass Detention from Qaraqash, Hotan,” online. A leaked document showed that in one county the most frequently cited reason for internment of Uyghur women was a violation of birth control regulations. One official, in a 2018 government work report, stated that “[by] severely curbing behaviors that violate birth control [policies], birth and natural population growth rates have declined dramatically.”23Adrian Zenz (July 2020). “China’s Own Documents Show Potentially Genocidal Sterilization Plans in Xinjiang,” Foreign Policy, online.
The Chinese government argues that the Uyghur population in the region has increased in absolute terms between 2010 and 2018. This claim obscures data for each of these years from the Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook, a government publication, which demonstrates the dramatic fall in birth-rates from 2017–2019 in particular. Following the publication of research analyzing this demographic data, subsequent Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook editions began omitting all key demographic statistics, including birth-rates by region, population figures by nationality, population figures by region and birth-control figures by region.24Australian Strategic Policy Institute (May 12, 2021). “Family De-planning: The Coercive Campaign to Drive Down Indigenous Birth-rates in Xinjiang,” pp. 23–24, online.
Right to education
In 2017, the Khotan Prefecture Education Department banned the use of the Uyghur language “at all education levels up to, and including secondary school, in favor of Mandarin.” The directive also called upon local schools to “resolutely correct the flawed method of providing Uyghur language training to Chinese language teachers.”25Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (January 2018), OL CHN 1/2018, online.
The government of China’s implementation of “bilingual education” programs in the Uyghur region has intentionally weakened teaching and the use of the Uyghur language in order to transition Uyghur students to speak and learn only in Mandarin Chinese, rather than simultaneous teaching in their native tongue.26Uyghur Human Rights Project (May 2015). “Uyghur Voices on Education: China’s Assimilative ‘Bilingual Education’ Policy in East Turkestan,” online.
Suggested Recommendations: (1) Stop imposing family planning policies on Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in the Uyghur region; and (2) publish disaggregated demographic data for the Uyghur region including birth rates and population figures.
Rights of specific persons or groups
The Chinese government restricts Uyghur cultural and religious expression extended to women in leadership roles in local religious affairs and teaching, particularly Uyghur women serving as büwi—a religious role which includes duties in the community. The Chinese government has attempted to expand its oversight and control of Uyghur women serving as büwi.27Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Sacred Right Defiled: China’s Iron-Fisted Repression of Uyghur Religious Freedom,” p. 29, online.
Uyghur women have been banned from wearing long skirts or burqas as part of a campaign to assimilate Uyghur women into Han Chinese society. Police have stopped Uyghur women in the street to forcibly “cut down” the length of their traditional skirts.28Tara Chan (July 17, 2017). “Police are reportedly cutting too-long dresses off ethnic minority women in the middle of streets in China,” Business Insider, online.
Ample evidence demonstrates that Uyghur children have been deeply affected by recent assimilatory policies of the Chinese government. Children have been forcibly separated from their parents, institutionalized in orphanages and boarding schools, and placed in educational settings where they are not allowed to produce or consume knowledge in their native language.29See Amnesty International, “China: Hearts and Lives Broken – The nightmare of Uyghur families separated by repression,” March 19, 2021, online, and Human Rights Watch, “China: Xinjiang Children Separated from Families,” September 15, 2019, online.
Suggested Recommendations: (1) Reunite children who have been forcibly removed from their homes and placed in boarding schools; and (2) provide Uyghur-language teachers at all education levels across the Uyghur region and ensure students are provided instruction in their mother tongue.
Cooperation with UN Special Procedures
The Chinese government, despite stating that it seeks “cooperation” with UN mechanisms and special procedures mandate-holders, has allowed access to a very small group of experts on a very selective basis since 2018. The following chart illustrates some of the experts and working groups who have repeatedly requested access to China without success.30Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Country visits of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council since 1998, online.
Mandate-holder Request for country visit Reminders Disappearances 2013 2013, 2014, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022 Independence of judges 2011 2013, 2014, 2015 Torture 2015 2017, 2019, 2021 Privacy 2016 2019, 2022, 2023 Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 2005 2008, 2009 Human rights defenders 2005 2008, 2015 Minority issues 2009 2015, 2018 Freedom of religion 2004 2006, 2019 Toxics and human rights 2014 2018, 2019 Business and human rights 2017 2019, 2020 Freedom of assembly 2011 2013, 2017 Water and sanitation 2010 2013 Environment 2018 2019 Counter terrorism 2017 2019 Freedom of expression 2015 2018
Equality and non-discrimination
The Chinese government, while touting the success of development policies in the Uyghur region for many years, has failed to provide detailed, disaggregated data showing disparities between ethnic groups. In doing so, it remains difficult to adequately understand how development policies have been impacting Uyghur and Chinese populations as such, especially in the context of crimes against humanity and genocide.
Uyghurs suffer from significantly higher unemployment rates than Chinese due to exclusion by state and private employers in sectors like energy, construction, resource extraction, and government positions,31Ilham Tohti (April 15, 2015). “Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations – Unemployment,” China Change, online. as well as exclusion based on language skills.32Uyghur Human Rights Project (April 2017). “Discrimination, Mistreatment and Coercion: Severe Labor Rights Abuses Faced by Uyghurs in China and East Turkestan,” online.
Suggested Recommendation: Provide access to UN special procedures mandate-holders for requested country visits and cooperate fully with UN human rights mechanisms.
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