Amnesty International has collected new evidence of human rights abusesin the Xinjiang region of China, which it says has become a “dystopian hellscape” for hundreds of thousands of Muslims subjected to mass internment and torture.
The human rights organisation has collected more than 50 new accounts from Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities who claim to have been subjected to mass internment and torture in police stations and camps in the region.
Testimonies from former detainees included in a new report launched on Thursday allege the use of “tiger chairs” – steel chairs with leg irons and handcuffs that restrain the body in painful positions – on detainees during police interrogations.
The report also claims that beatings, sleep deprivation and overcrowding are commonplace in police stations. Uyghur Muslims, often arrested for what appeared to be lawful conduct, also reported being hooded and shackled during interrogation and transfer.
In the camps detainees had no privacy or autonomy and faced harsh punishments for trivial disobedience, claims the report. Amnesty says it learned of one case in which a detainee is believed to have died as a result of being restrained in a tiger chair, in front of his cellmates, for 72 hours.
In the early weeks of being in the camps, interviewees told Amnesty researchers they were forced to sit still or kneel in the same position in their cell for hours. They say they were not allowed to practise Islam and forbidden from using their mother tongue. They also claim they were forced to attend classes where they studied Mandarin and Chinese Communist party propaganda.
Other than being escorted under armed guard to and from canteens, classes or interrogation, detainees almost never left their cells and rarely saw sunlight or had access to the outdoors and exercise, added the report.
“The Chinese authorities have created a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” said Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International.
“It should shock the conscience of humanity that massive numbers of people have been subjected to brainwashing, torture and other degrading treatment in internment camps, while millions more live in fear amid a vast surveillance apparatus.”
Amnesty is calling for all camps housing Muslim and ethnic minorities across Xinjiang province to be closed and for the UN to investigate and bring those suspected of crimes under international law to account.
China has consistently denied all accusations of wrongdoing in Xinjiang and said the camps were designed to offer Chinese language lessons and job support, as well as to combat religious extremism.
With all the fanfare Covid would allow, the global education summit opened in London this week. Ahead of the meeting, the minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas was on rousing form. “Educating girls is a gamechanger,” Wendy Morton said, going on to describe what a plan would look like to do just that.
The UK, co-hosting the summit with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, plans to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education, from governments and donors. The UK government has promised £430m over the next five years.
There followed a number of reasons why the issue is so important, all of them absolutely sound: on any given indicator, from GDP to infant health and beyond, a nation stands or falls by how well, for how long, and how inclusively it educates its girls.
These are all the right words, even in the right order, yet they land completely at odds with the government’s behaviour.
Lis Wallace, head of advocacy at the One campaign, is most immediately concerned with these pledges being fully funded. There are two core targets: one is to increase girls’ access to education, the other is to boost the key milestone for all children – that they’re able to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10.
The past 18 months have been devastating for education, particularly in countries where it’s harder to access to online learning. About 1.6 billion children are out of school across the world. There’s a target to raise $5bn (£3.6bn), “which is a drop in the ocean of what is required to meet the global learning crisis”, Wallace says. It looks as though this summit will raise no more than $4bn, which is nothing less than a “failure of statecraft”, as Wallace explains: “It’s challenging when the host government is stepping back and making aid cuts for it then to ask other countries to step up.”
This is a depressing echo of the G7’s failure earlier this year; commitments to share vaccine doses with low-income countries came too little, too late, with devastating results, and it’s hard to avoid the question of whether that outcome would have been different if the host nation had role modelled some generosity.
Furthermore, there’s some confused causality in the minister’s assertion that staying in school protects girls from “forced child marriage, gender-based violence and early pregnancy”. The exact inverse is true: it is largely teenage pregnancy that forces girls out of school in the first place, and to try to use education in lieu of sexual health and reproductive provision is illogical.
Esi Asare Prah, who is a youth and advocacy officer in Ghana for MSI Reproductive Choices, describes a situation in which 5,000 to 7,000 girls drop out of school each year after becoming pregnant – last year, 2,000 of them were between 10 and 14. Across sub-Saharan Africa, MSI estimates that up to 4 million girls drop out or are excluded from school every year due to pregnancy.
“These girls are most likely to be on the street, doing menial jobs; their children will not make it into higher education. It creates a cycle of poverty and a cycle of slums. For me, the foundation of it is that you can’t seek to invest in education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa and cut down funding for sexual and reproductive health. If you treat development issues as isolated, you will have the same issues of 50 years ago chasing you into the future.”
Here, the recent cuts to the aid budget make a mockery of these pledges on education: UK funding to the UN Population Fund recently went down by 85%.
There is inspiration to take from this summit, nevertheless; President Kenyatta has been leading the charge not only on education but also on the climate crisis, and there is a solidarity and sense of purpose between poorer nations that may yet inspire greater generosity from donors. Whatever it achieves, though, it will be despite its UK host not because of them.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.
The 78-year-old American president is known to be prone to verbal gaffes and slips of the tongue, for which he is usually criticized or mocked by some people on social media.
US President Joe Biden appeared to confuse former US President Barack Obama for another former US president, Donald Trump, in a Wednesday speech, but swiftly corrected himself and suggested that the mistake was a “Freudian slip”.
“Back in 2009, during the so-called Great Recession, the president asked me to be in charge of managing that piece, then-President Trump,” Biden said while addressing the public in Pennsylvania. “Excuse me, Freudian slip, that was the last president. He caused the…anyway, President Obama, when I was vice-president.”
Others argued that the 46th president does not know what a Freudian slip really is.
Biden was in Pennsylvania on Wednesday speaking at a Mack Truck assembly plant in Lehigh Valley, promoting his administration’s new measures to encourage US citizens and companies to “buy American”. Particularly, he announced plans to modify the 1933 Buy American Act that requires federal firms and agencies to purchase goods that have at least 55% US-made components.
Under the Biden plan, the threshold will be increased to 65% by 2024 and to 75% by 2029.