How to describe what's happening in Xinjiang?

By Jerome Cohen

Earlier this month, Josh Rogin wrote in the Washington Post­, Ethnic cleansing makes a comeback — in China, which provoked quite a lot of discussion, especially with regard to Rogin’s use of “ethnic cleansing” in describing China’s continuing campaign to abuse hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in “re-education camps“ in the Xinjiang region as well as other efforts to destroy the social and religious life of Uyghur communities.  

Should we use ethnic cleansing to describe this horrendous situation? It is important to “rectify names” (zhengming), but there are so many aspects to this repression that it is not possible to find words that can adequately encapsulate it. What, for example, about reports that large numbers of Uyghurs from certain areas are being displaced and sent elsewhere outside of Xinjiang?

I personally believe, despite the views expressed otherwise, that we should not confine “ethnic cleansing” to its past notorious uses, for what is taking place is the attempted destruction of an ethnic group. This attempt has about as good a chance of success as the attempts to “convert” LGBT people to heterosexuals, and perhaps that is where we should look for better vocabulary!  

What can be done regarding Xinjiang’s mass detentions?

By Jerome A. Cohen

I have discussed Xinjiang’s horrific detentions on my blog. There should be more investigative reporting that looks into various important questions. We do not know all the types of detention resorted to. They may include: simply lawless detentions, i.e., not based on any regulations or laws; detentions authorized by some written document even if issued only by low level police; detentions based on special legal provisions under the new Supervision Law; detentions based on the usual Criminal Procedure Law; and detentions based on special provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law, i.e., residential surveillance.

It would be difficult to convincingly argue that these detentions are consistent with the PRC Constitution if such arguments could be made before an impartial tribunal, which, of course, does not exist in the PRC. These detentions are very similar to those imposed for decades under “re-education through labor” (RETL), which, like several other notorious administrative detention procedures, finally had to be abandoned by the regime, at least in name. Yet similar detentions still take place under various rubrics such as “re-education” for drug offenders, prostitutes and their customers and political offenders who continue to be given “black jails” and other types of confinement.

We are purposely being kept in the dark about the unique, massive detentions in Xinjiang, which have confined many hundreds of thousands of closely-settled people on many specious charges. Perhaps the last time so many people have been detained outside the formal criminal process was in the 1957-59 “anti-rightist” campaign where RETL was first used.

Given the Communist Party’s domination of the judicial system, the legal impossibility of getting the courts to consider constitutional claims and the refusal of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which, unlike the courts, is authorized to interpret the Constitution, to consider such claims, there is no prospect for challenging the Xinjiang measures domestically. It is worth noting, however, that what is being done should be understood as violating procedural rights under Article 37 of the Constitution as well as various freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, not to mention relevant provisions of China’s Criminal Procedure Law and other national legislation.

To be sure, the Xinjiang measures also violate public international law in many respects. China has signed but not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which plainly prohibits arbitrary detentions. The PRC has ratified the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Xinjiang actions are clear violations of these international treaties in many respects. Other international human rights violations can also be established. Relevant treaty bodies, such as the Committee Against Torture and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, should review the Xinjiang detentions in their dialogues with China, ask the Chinese government to provide accurate information and condemn violations in Xinjiang.

Additionally, other UN human rights agencies are the obvious fora in which to move, including the UN Human Rights Council, the UN independent human rights experts such the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other special rapporteurs, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Unfortunately China has moved skillfully to dominate the UN Human Rights Council and the U.S. Government has certainly not risen to the challenge of effectively opposing China’s maneuvers. The departure of Mr. Zaid, the energetic and courageous High Commissioner for Human Rights, is greatly to be regretted.

Individual countries, of course, can take actions, which is why I recommend that the U.S. Government adopt Magnitsky Act sanctions against those responsible for Xinjiang, starting with Xi Jinping.

Various concerned countries can also act in concert outside the UN, for example excluding China from major economic and political meetings. It is a particular disgrace that Turkic, Muslim countries and their organizations have done so little to condemn China for what it is doing to their kinsmen.

There should also be many public protests by ordinary citizens, i.e., NGOs and popularly-inspired meetings in free countries whose people support human rights.

“In China, they call it a political camp but really it was a prison in the mountains.”

By Jerome A. Cohen

(Photo credit:  AFP ; the 41-year-old said she had been tricked into working in one of the camps)

(Photo credit: AFP; the 41-year-old said she had been tricked into working in one of the camps)

Here’s a valuable AFP report on Xinjiang, China’s 'reeducation camps' in spotlight at Kazakhstan trial. There have been occasional references to the mass detention of Kazakhs as well as Uyghurs but this report tells more. It is especially interesting to learn much new information through the medium of a public trial allowed to be held in Kazakhstan despite the politically explosive nature of the charges for the country and its dictatorial government that functions under China’s shadow.

In China a similar case, IF a formal criminal prosecution is used instead of simple arbitrary detention, would usually be closed to the public on grounds of national security. In this case, by contrast, Kazakhstan held an open hearing, apparently attended by foreign media, in which the accused had the benefit of an active defense lawyer who was allowed to question his client extensively. The court, for political reasons, might have curtailed the scope of the testimony to avoid discussion of the Chinese “re-education centers” but instead properly allowed the questioning to take place in order to make clear the background of the defendant’s resort to false travel documents. The defendant, who seems to have made an excellent witness, aptly summed up the terrible Xinjiang situation when she said: “In China, they call it a political camp but really it was a prison in the mountains.” !!! 

What is happening in Xinjiang?

By Jerome A. Cohen

Here's a campaign launched by the Lantos Foundation and Uyghur NGOs. Bravo for their efforts to highlight the stunning, outrageous detention of hundreds of thousands of innocent Uyghurs in Xinjiang. But why is the international academic community largely silent about the current atrocities??? I hope that journalists are silently working to confirm the few reports that are published about what has to be the worst current abuses being committed in China, which says a lot! 

Who are the targets of the round-up? What are conditions in the concentration camps like? How long are people being held? What is the content of their “re-education”? What happens to those who are released? How many are transferred to the formal criminal process, either to “residential surveillance at a designated location” or to the regular detention, arrest, indictment, prosecution and punishment after “trials”??? What should be done to alert the world and to mobilize vigorous responses?  What are foreign governments doing in public and behind the scenes? I am proud of the U.S. Government’s very recent condemnation of Beijing’s shameful measures. Do the Turkic/Muslim countries feel no special obligation to speak out and act?