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Humanize On China, Human Rights, and ‘Making a Pyromaniac Into the Town Fire Chief’

China’s Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic minority, are by no means the first victims of the Chinese Community Party, but they are among the latest. Wesley J. Smith is one of the few reporting on the Chinese state’s ethnic and ideological cleaning campaign targeting the nation’s Uyghur minority:

Is the Chinese communist government exploiting the raging coronavirus pandemic as a biological weapon of persecution against the Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic minority in remote Western China? In an interview, I asked [United States Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam] Brownback the basis for his concern. He told me that there is “no doubt” about the oppressive conditions to which Uyghurs are subjected. “We have multiple eyewitnesses. We have satellite photos of the camps,” by which he means mass-incarceration “re-education” facilities where detainees are forced to renounce their faith and are subjected to political indoctrination, torture, rape, and other physical and emotional forms of oppression. Brownback’s many private conversations with activists and “multiple public reports from reliable human rights groups and Western media” have convinced him that imprisoned Uyghurs face, if not intentional infection, at the very least sharply increased unnecessary risk of disease.

I asked Nina Shea, Director for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute — one of the world’s premier experts on China’s suppression of its religious minorities — whether or not she shares Brownback’s concern about the Uyghurs and coronavirus crisis. Absolutely, she said, and identified the potential reason to the government’s reckless indifference of its own people. “Religious practice is the only area which the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t have full control over,” Shea told me by email. “The disease has a silver lining for Xi [Jinping] and the [Communist] party. It has corralled food-deprived Uyghur Muslims in squalid detention centers and work camps where the virus can be expected to take a toll.”

… In addition to the brutal conditions in the detention prisons, and beyond the potential for the highly communicable virus to devastate the camps, able-bodied Uyghur men and women are systematically Shanghaied into forced labor in factories and manufacturing facilities in their home region and throughout China — a human rights abuse that, Brownback fears “produces products that find their way into broad commercial use.” If true, the prices of the electronics and clothes we purchase — much of which are partially or wholly manufactured in China — are subsidized by Uyghur quasi-slave labor. That makes us all unintentionally complicit in profound evil. …

[A] recent report released by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China offers further evidence of the veracity of the “forced labor” allegations against China. The Commission, created by federal statute in 2000, is legally “mandated to monitor human rights and development of the rule of law in China.” In March 2020, the commission’s staff report … charges that Uyghur workers “are often paid well below minimum wage. In some cases they are not paid at all,” conditions that the report concludes may meet the international legal definition of “crimes against humanity.”

When we lose a sense of the inherent equality of human beings, we have lost the philosophical foundation for human rights. It is a tragedy that the ruling Communists in China hold human rights in contempt, and a crime that the regime treats Chinese citizens like the Uyghurs as if they were pathogens or beasts of burden.

Too many in leadership positions internationally appear to be indifferent, and the appearance of indifference to human rights is indifference. Even though slavery and forced labor are profound violations of human rights, the Chinese state that is apparently perpetuating these crimes was earlier this month appointed to a United Nations Human Rights Council panel. The Chinese state will now play a key role in the selection of UN human rights investigators:

The country was appointed on Wednesday to a panel where it will play a key role in selecting U.N. Human Rights Council’s investigators charged with monitoring human rights, including abuses of the freedoms of speech, the right to health, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, the NGO U.N. Watch said in a report.

The group’s executive director Hillel Neuer said the appointment was “like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief,” the report said.

“It’s absurd and immoral for the UN to allow China’s oppressive government a key role in selecting officials who shape international human rights standards and report on violations worldwide,” it quoted Neuer as saying.

China will be able to influence the selection of at least 17 investigators over the next year, as well as vetting and recommending candidates for critical human rights posts.

Veteran rights activist Yang Jianli, who has acted as adviser to U.N. Watch, said the move was fresh proof that the U.N. Human Rights Council is now a defunct organization.

“China’s appointment to the advisory panel proves once again that the United Nations is no longer able to fulfill its proper functions,” Yang said.

“To say that the U.N. Human Rights Council is now purely cosmetic is putting it mildly; actually it now defends human rights abusers,” he said.

“Like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief.”

Tom Shakely

Research Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Tom Shakely is a Research Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism where he focuses on human dignity, human rights, and law and policy. Tom has spoken on human rights issues at the United Nations, testified to the District of Columbia City Council on conscience rights, and advised on testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. House of Representatives.