A recent UN study on modern slavery adds to the evidence of China’s maltreatment of the Uyghur ethnic group, a Muslim minority that some human rights organisations claim is undergoing genocide.
Dr. Tomoya Obokata, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on modern forms of slavery, wrote that it is “reasonable to conclude” that forced labour has been taking place in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China among ethnic minorities, including the Uyghurs, “in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing.”
Obokata highlighted two state-mandated procedures that have aided in the Uyghurs’ forced labour, one of which detains minorities and submits them to work placements, and the other of which reassigns rural workers to other low-skilled, low-paying jobs.
The investigation found that “indicators of forced labour indicating to the compulsory character of work given by impacted populations have been apparent in numerous instances,” despite the Chinese government’s assurances that the programmes offer employment possibilities for minorities.
The report states that some instances may constitute slavery as a crime against humanity, meriting further independent investigation.
“Furthermore, given the nature and extent of powers exercised over affected workers during forced labour, including excessive surveillance, abusive living and working conditions, restriction of movement through internment, threats, physical and/or sexual violence and other inhuman or degrading treatment,” it adds.
Uyghurs have been imprisoned in several “reeducation camps” in China’s Xinjiang, a sparsely populated autonomous province in the country’s far west, in recent years. Estimates of their numbers range as high as 1.8 million.
The Uyghurs are allegedly tortured and politically brainwashed within the camps. Uyghurs outside the camps are under the constant surveillance of omnipresent police troops and face recognition technology.
China has always associated the Uyghurs’ religious practises and culture with radicalism and secession.
Initially denying the existence of the camps, the government is now justifying its actions as an appropriate reaction to a danger to national security.
In January 2021, China’s activities in Xinjiang were legally classified as genocide by the United States.
Along with systematic rape, China’s crackdown on Xinjiang allegedly involves compulsion to have contraceptive devices implanted and even complete sterilisation.
A former hospital employee in the area claims that hospitals in the province have allegedly murdered newborn Uyghur infants and forced Uyghur mothers to undergo late-term abortions in order to follow China’s family planning regulations. Uyghur women, whose fertility rates used to be among the highest in the nation, have seen sharp declines recently.
While Pope Francis did identify the Uyghurs as a persecuted people in a book that was released in 2021, the Vatican has mainly kept mute on the Uyghur persecution. The assertion was unfounded, the Chinese foreign ministry said in response.
Two Asian cardinals and 74 other religious leaders released a statement in August 2020 denouncing the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs as “one of the most grievous human catastrophes since the Holocaust,” and Catholic bishops have criticised China’s conduct in Xinjiang.
In addition to other forms of modern-day slavery, the U.N. report detailed the suffering of minority women and girls in Ethiopia’s Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions who have been “subjected to rape, sexual mutilation, and other forms of sexual violence by parties to the armed conflict,” including groups like ISIS and Boko Haram in the Middle East and Nigeria.