Human rights abuses alleged in Uighur “re-education” camps

Uighur human rights
Xi Jinping's government has been accused of permitting human rights abuses in Xinjiang's "re-education" camps. Source: kremlin.ru (via. Wikimedia Commons)
Chinese "re-education" camps in the region of Xinjiang have been accused of widespread human rights abuses against Uighur women detainees.

Disclaimer: This article covers subjects that some people may find distressing.

By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor

A BBC report has provided first-hand accounts and expert analysis which details systematic and brutal practice of rape and torture in what China claims are “re-education” camps.

More than one million Uighurs have been detained in Xinjiang, China, according to independent estimates.

One report also concluded that China is forcing sterilisation on Uighur women in an attempt to limit the population of Uighur people.

China states that the camps are for re-education, but there have been widespread reports of human rights abuses, and some nations have now started to describe China’s actions as genocide.

The report includes accounts from former detainees and workers at the facilities, and provides testimony of “an organized system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture.”

What does the report state?

The report includes harrowing accounts of widespread sexual abuse and violence in the camps, from a number of individuals who were detained in or made to work in them.

The BBC talked to Tursunay Ziawudun, who fled Xinjiang after her release, and is now in the US.

Ziawudun says women would be taken from the cells and into “black rooms”, where there were no security cameras.

In these rooms, she says, women were raped and tortured by masked Chinese men.

Ziawudun said she herself experienced torture, and was raped by multiple men on three occasions.

Qelbinur Sedik says she was brought into the camp and coerced into giving the detainees lessons as a Chinese language teacher.

She told the BBC that one of the policewomen at the camps told her: “Yes, the rape has become a culture. It is gang rape and the Chinese police not only rape them but also electrocute them. They are subject to horrific torture.”

An expert on China’s policies in Xinjiang, Adrian Zenz, said the testimony he had gathered on this issue “confirms the very worst of what we have heard before”.

“It provides authoritative and detailed evidence of sexual abuse and torture at a level clearly greater than what we had assumed.”

How did officials respond?

In response to the allegations, the Chinese government said the camps were “vocational education and training centers” and that the government “attaches great importance to protecting women’s rights”.

The Chinese foreign ministry later called the findings a “false report”.

The US government said it was “deeply disturbed” by the accounts. A spokesperson said: “These atrocities shock the conscience and must be met with serious consequences.”

In January, the outgoing Trump administration called the Chinese government’s actions genocide. This was later endorsed by the new Biden administration.

The UK government’s criticism has been less overt, though Nigel Adams, Minister of State for Asia said: “Anybody who has seen the BBC report cannot help but be moved and distressed by what are clearly evil acts”.

This statement was made in response to an urgent question posed by MP Nus Ghani, who said: “These horrifying stories added to the huge and growing body of evidence detailing atrocities perpetrated by the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang – atrocities which may even be genocidal.”

More than 180 organisations have called on governments to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the UK is considering a boycott, but that he would need to see enough evidence in order to make that decision.

Raab stopped short of calling the Chinese government’s policies genocidal, a move that has been criticised by some MPs, including from within his own party.

An independent tribunal in Britain is set to meet in May to establish whether China’s actions constitute genocide.

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

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