At least a million Uighurs are being held captive by the Chinese government.
Peter Irwin, The Independent
Thanks to a new cache of classified Chinese government documents many of the gaps in our understanding of the nature of the mass internment of Uighurs have been filled. It paints a dire picture of the cold, calculating approach taken by high-level Chinese officials.
At least a million Uighurs are being held, with a number of international experts deeming the latest documents to be genuine. Most significant among the documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, is a secret directive, issued in November 2017 by a Communist Party committee in Xinjiang, that describes how officials should manage the camps. The document goes into detail about the importance of preventing escapes, the necessity of video surveillance “without blind spots”, prohibitions on contact with the outside world, and the importance of secrecy.
Also included in the documents are previously undisclosed intelligence briefings that describe the nature of the mass collection of data and its analysis by artificial intelligence as a means of selecting entire categories of Uighurs for detention. The release comes on the heels of leaks to the New York Times earlier this month of documents which reveal how demands from high-level officials, including President Xi Jinping, led to the creation of the internment camp system. The leaks also showed that Chinese officials acknowledged that their policies had separated parents from children on an enormous scale.
Taken together, the new information stands as the most clear source regarding the inner-workings of the camps as well as the motivations of Chinese officials in relation to the planning and implementation of the entire camp system as well as the Orwellian surveillance apparatus supporting it. The significance of the documents cannot be overstated. They are the last piece of the puzzle put together already by journalists, academics, researchers and activist groups in an effort to understand the details of one of the most intense campaigns of targeted persecution anywhere in the world. Extensive, exhaustive reporting on the ground in Xinjiang (despite serious obstruction), in Kazakhstan (where many former detainees reside), through the exposure of construction and security bids (by researchers like Adrian Zenz), and by the Uighur diaspora, has helped fill out the picture. Most critically, though, is that the documents come straight from the Chinese government itself, signed by top officials who would then oversee implementation of the policies.
One might presume that there’s no denying left, but true to form, the Chinese Embassy in the UK already stated that the “so-called documents are pure fabrication and fake news,” despite confirmation of their authenticity by a number of experts as well as corroboration from former detainees.
There is no better time than now for governments to step forward and make known their objections. Collective action is possible when political cover is offered to those (rightly) fearing retribution from China. But it can’t just be the usual suspects like the United States or Germany this time. It will require the collective effort of those that haven’t spoken up yet, but also haven’t indicated support for China’s policies either.
Fence-sitters must now choose the side of basic respect for human rights—one not particularly controversial when we’re talking about the largest arbitrary detention of a single ethnic group since the Second World War. Aside from calls of concern from independent experts, the United Nations has taken a mostly hands-off approach, with worrying signals sent from its Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, that suggest the topic is not a significant concern—or at least one that doesn’t require public comment. Leaders like Guterres and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, should speak clearly and publicly.
After nearly three years of mass detention and appalling abuses, China is now firmly on the ropes. It is now our collective responsibility to call for an immediate end to a campaign accurately likened to the worst injustices in modern history.
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