China / Foreign politics / Human rights / Human rights violation / News / Politics / Press

Chinese concentration camps: is it ethical to visit a country which violates human rights?

One of my goals for 2021 is to focus on my personal and professional growth. COVID-19 has been a huge (and deadly) pain in the neck and I still have not figured out who I truly am nor who I really want to be, which is also because we basically spent ten months of the year sitting at home, baking banana bread (not me, I almost burnt the kitchen trying to make cookies!), whining and feeling captured and depressed. On the other hand, I do not want my life and my purpose to be a never-ending “me me me” and I would like to broaden my horizon and educate myself on topics regarding minorities and discrimination.

One of the questions which popped up in my mind while reflecting on these next steps: is it ethical to visit a country which violates human rights, like Russia, China or Dubai?

Let us focus on China for a second. I must admit I have never been particularly attracted to this country, even if I find its millenarian culture and traditions very fascinating. Please, do not get me wrong: I am sure China is a beautiful, multifaceted piece of this mad planet, but it has never been on the top of my bucket list, even if I want to explore the globe in depth.
Despite the desire to learn new customs without being influenced by extern factors, my willingness to visit China for holiday purposes has diminished even further after having a look at the many ways this country violates basic human rights. Chinese people themselves are victims of state impositions and crimes, and so many citizens suffer from discrimination and injustice inflicted on them by an authoritarian government.

According to Amnesty’s 2019 report, “[t]he human rights situation continued to be marked by a systematic crackdown on dissent.  The justice system remained plagued by unfair trials and torture and other ill-treatment in detention. China still classified information on its extensive use of the death penalty as a state secret. Repression conducted under the guise of “anti-separatism” or “counter-terrorism” remained particularly severe in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) and Tibetan-populated areas (Tibet). Authorities subjected Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang to intrusive surveillance, arbitrary detention and forced indoctrination. LGBTI people faced widespread discrimination and stigma in society. Due to inadequate medical services, they took serious risks by seeking unregulated and improper gender-affirming treatments. LGBTI people also faced abuses in the form of “conversion therapy”.
The government continued to intimidate, harass, and prosecute human rights defenders and independent NGOs, including raids on their homes and offices. Human rights defenders’ family members were subjected to police surveillance, harassment, detention and restrictions on their freedom of movement. […]

I have never read anything about Chinese concentration camps before. I have never seen any news related to the Uighurs persecution. The only concentration camps that we know of despite the fact that there are still people who have the nerve to question their atrocious existence and function are the Nazi camps of WWII.
What is happening in China right now?
The Uighurs are a Muslim Turkic ethnic group, culturally and ethnically distant from China, although the majority (about eleven million people), live in Xinjiang, an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China that borders Mongolia, Russia, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and the Indian part of Kashmir. The regional economy is mainly based on agriculture and trade.
Xinjiang is also an important territory because of its rich oil and mineral supplies and resources and it is China’s greatest producer of natural gas. In other words: “It’s all about the money!”

The first evidence that China was operating a system of concentration camps for Muslims in Xinjiang began to emerge between 2018 and 2019, thanks to Google Earth’s satellite photographs.
China has consistently denied locking up Muslims from this region in the camps, claiming they were “vocational facilities” instead. State television shows reports of the camps with clean classrooms and happy, grateful students, although the reasons for the “study” are not specified.
Why is this happening? In 2009, tensions caused by decades of institutional and daily discrimination against this minority in their region erupted violently in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. Clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese killed about 200 people, most of whom, according to the authorities, were Han. China blamed the Uighurs for the killings and vowed to stamp out separatist Islamic ideology.

At least one million Uighur have been interned in more than 85 identified camps since 2017. The detainees are forced to learn Mandarin by force, renounce “extremist” thoughts and undergo daily indoctrination in Chinese Communist Party propaganda. There are also accounts of torture of various kinds and vehement ferocity, group sexual abuse and sterilisation of Uighur women. In addition, prisoners are assigned to factories to work in conditions comparable to slavery.

Sayragul Sauytbay, a Muslim woman of Kazakh origin, managed to obtain political asylum in Sweden with her family after being imprisoned in one of the terrible camps. Sauytbay describes being forced to witness a gang rape in the camp. One young woman was raped by several police officers in front of 200 people. According to her testimonal, several medical experiments were performed on the prisoners. Also, forced abortions and contraceptives were also reported in the Washington Post. Women have been repeatedly raped by Chinese guards and the pregnancies were forcibly terminated.

Reading about such nightmares is difficult, especially as a woman, but what shocks me even more is that we know almost nothing about these concentration camps, which are reaching a record of prisoners and victims similar to the numbers of the Nazi camps half a century ago. Almost no newspapers or broadcasts talk about this issue and the economic relationships with China continue. What can be done to change the situation?
In my humble opinion, reading, self-education and sharing news are certainly a good start. Is it necessary to go to China though, considering what is happening? What do you think?

Picture: (C) Vincent Chan

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