Human Rights Violation in China’s Hidden Camps

In recent months China’s ruling Communist party claims to have established ‘re-education’ camps which provide “free job training” for Chinese citizens. These camps have emerged predominantly in the Xinjiang region to offer an escape from poverty and provide unfortunate individuals with new opportunities. However, in light of leaked documents, it has become evident that these ‘re-education’ camps are in reality not simply for the average Chinese citizen. Rather, this has become a targeted system of forced labor for a sought out minority group. The Chinese Communist party seem to be targeting their Muslim population, in particular the Uighurs and Kazakhs. 

There has been speculation that inside these camps numerous human rights violations have occurred such as mass rape, forced abortions and sterilisations, organ harvesting, and experimental medical procedures as well as torture and undocumented cases of death. Due to media censorship in the People’s Republic of China, much of the evidence on these violations are scarce. The internet is effectively banned from Xinjiang and all foreign journalists are closely monitored, making it impossible to conduct interviews or gather concrete evidence. Chinese officials have dismissed any documents as fake news and when the UN panel questioned a senior Chinese official he denied allegations of forced labour and claimed that the camps were ‘vocational schools for criminals’. 

Nevertheless, there is an overwhelming surplus of personal accounts, documentation, and inconsistencies. The Washington-based East Turkistan National Awakening Movement released information that identified 465 camps in Xinjiang, including ‘182 suspected Concentration Camps, 209 suspected prisons, and 74 suspected Bingtuan labor camps’. Images of these were captured using Google Earth Satellite imagery.

The varied branding of each of these camps allows for immense ambiguity that further muddles the global disquisition on this issue. Some appear to be voluntary training camps, prison camps, mass detention camps, and others as ‘re-education’ camps. Often such compounds act as feeder-camps that funnel individuals into forced labour factories. Satellite images show the close proximity of the factories to the camps suggesting an agenda to quickly transfer inmates to the factories upon “release”.  

Leaked documents describe the camps as training centres with detailed plans of uprooting villages, restricting personal freedoms, and pressuring or forcing inmates to stay in their jobs. Other documents clearly state that the camps should run like high-security prisons including military-style training, strict discipline, and punishment. The camps are often located amongst desert dunes surrounded by high walls and some have barbed wire and security cameras. One statement, in particular, instructs that ‘the students should have a fixed bed position, fixed queue position, fixed classroom seat, and fixed station during skills work, and it is strictly forbidden for this to be changed.’ This exemplifies the extreme restrictions placed upon the Uighur community and highlights the overbearing limitations imposed upon their everyday activities. 

Furthermore, sexual violence within this controversy has largely gone unnoticed and hasn’t been thoroughly discussed in the media as of yet. There have been reports and personal accounts of women and girls being raped by guards in front of the masses within some of these camps. 

Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh, was forced to work in one of the women’s camps in Xinjiang. She informed Israeli newspaper Haaretz that in the evenings, the guards would choose ‘pretty’ inmates, put bags over their heads and then suspiciously return the females to their rooms in the morning. She also claims to have witnessed cases of gang rape, she describes one particular occurrence including other inmates being forced to watch a man rape a woman. Shamseden states talk amongst the Muslim women alludes to rape as a common occurrence inside the camps as well as outside the camp walls, in which Uighur women are forced into situations where issues of sexual harassment and abuse are likely, such as through the the ‘Pair-up and Become Family Scheme,’ which forced marriages upon women. This has allowed for many undocumented cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence to continue.  

The outreach coordinator for the U.S. based Uighurs Human Rights Project believes that the Chinese government is targeting these women because “if you want to eradicate a people, you must destroy its women.” He explains that this would ensure the destruction of “Uighur culture and identity”. 

Some critics speculate that this overall brutalization stems from a fear that the Uighur Muslims are a threat to China’s security. Events such as 9/11 and the idea of the ‘War on Terror’ are being used to justify this victimization. The camps have been described as a method of controlling and indoctrinating the Muslim population, attempting to turn Muslims into disciplined and obedient Chinese citizens. From the Chinese Communist party’s view, the camps are a solution to the rise of religious extremism and ethnic violence. It is a strategy of social re-engineering that results in loyal non-denominational Chinese nationals. 

Dishearteningly, China’s economic power means that other governments are less willing to help the Uighurs at this time. Presently, the United Nations are divided in their response with 54 countries supporting China’s stance. Surprisingly, 14 of these supporting countries are active members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, said these measures, referring to the camps, have protected the local people and emphasised that there had not been a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang in the past three years. This again reinforces the idea that anti-terrorism is being used as a justification for these human rights violations. However, in July 2019, 22 western nations including the UK. Canada, New Zealand and Australia, all signed a letter to the UN calling on China to stop these camps. In October 2019, although the US did not sign the letter, they placed visa restrictions on Chinese officials ‘believed to be responsible for, or complicit in’ the detention of Uighur Muslims. Although, actions have been initiated there has not been enough support to ensure the termination of these horrific camps.

History shows that some of the greatest atrocities and human rights violations have been justified by minorities being portrayed as subhuman, through dehumanization, frequently being branding as “viruses” “plagues” or “defects” of their nations. The Chinese government’s leaked documents state that freedom is only possible when this ‘virus’, alluding to Muslim religion and culture, is eradicated.  Ben Emmerson QC, a leading human rights lawyer and an adviser to the World Uighur Congress, argues that the camps are changing people’s identity.”It’s a total transformation that is designed specifically to wipe the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang as a separate cultural group off the face of the Earth.”


Data leak details China’s ‘brainwashing system’:

China’s Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labor:

Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities Into an Army of Workers:

CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN XINJIANG, CHINA — shit you should care about:

China’s attacks on Uighur women are crimes against humanity:

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content phiolosphy.*

Author: Bella Eperon

Editor: Kelsey Greeff

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

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