China is currently being accused of locking up almost a suspected one million Muslims in the western Xinjiang region without trial or fair cause. These camps were created furtively in the desert, to be far from public scrutiny, but nevertheless were discovered by satellite images and journalists. In these camps, Uighur, Kazakh, and other Muslim groups are whisked from their homes, where they are politically indoctrinated and brainwashed, or “transformed” “reeducated,” as China says it. However, the statement by Shohrat Zakir, the director of these camps, “Its purpose is to get rid of the environment and soil that breeds terrorism and religious extremism,” directly points towards religious targeting and discrimination. China has gone so far as to say residents of these camps like staying there and citing a UN resolution on terrorism to justify this “anti-terrorism initiative” despite reliable reports of torture and heinous crimes being committed in these camps. These camps are only part of the bigger picture. “Regulations on De-extremification” were passed earlier which allowed China to punish acts such as praying, “abnormal” beards, head scarfs, and more.
Recently, the Chinese government has received international backlash for these camps. In the United States, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, despite having a prior anti-Muslim rhetoric, has made public statements denouncing China’s actions. He said, “this is, I think we use the word, or words, historic human rights abuse, and we’re working to convince the Chinese that this practice is abhorrent and ought to be stopped.” In December of last year, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also denounced the camps during a visit to China in December of last year. Multitudes of other countries including Turkey, France, and Canada have made direct statements urging the government to terminate the camps. Western governments have indicated that this topic will be a priority at future Human Rights Council meetings.
The fact that China is willing to unapologetically support its camps, which display conspicuous human rights abuses in its persecution of the Muslim minority, in the face of scrutiny on the world stage should be worrying. China, a country whose main methods of governing involve unrestricted monitoring and a tight grip on all workings of society, this move symbolizes China’s growing indifference of international criticism. If Mao era abuses such as these camps are being allowed in a time like this, it signals a failing of our standards to uphold human rights. The issue has not been investigated by the UNHRC, the relevant UN body, although many human rights groups and countries are calling for it.