U.S. 'deeply disturbed' by reports of systematic rape of Muslims in China camps
By David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is “deeply disturbed” by reports of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region and there must be serious consequences for atrocities committed there, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.
A BBC report earlier on Wednesday said women in the camps were subject to rape, sexual abuse and torture. The British broadcaster said “several former detainees and a guard have told the BBC they experienced or saw evidence of an organized system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture.”
Asked to comment, a State Department spokeswoman said: “We are deeply disturbed by reports, including first-hand testimony, of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.”
The spokeswoman reiterated U.S. charges that China has committed “crimes against humanity and genocide” in Xinjiang and added: “These atrocities shock the conscience and must be met with serious consequences.”
The official said China should allow “immediate and independent investigations by international observers” into the rape allegations “in addition to the other atrocities being committed in Xinjiang.”
The official did not specify what the consequences might be, but said Washington would speak out jointly with allies to condemn the atrocities and “consider all appropriate tools to promote accountability for those responsible and deter future abuses.”
The previous U.S. administration of former President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and firms it linked to abuses in Xinjiang, and the administration of new President Joe Biden, which took office on Jan. 20, has made clear it plans to continue a tough approach to Beijing on this and other issues.
China denies accusations of abuses in Xinjiang, and has said the complexes it set up in the region provided vocational training to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism. Those in the facilities have since “graduated”, it says.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the BBC report was “wholly without factual basis” and charged that the people interviewed for it had been “proved multiple times” to be “actors disseminating false information.”
The Biden administration was quick to endorse a Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang.
Last year, a report by a German researcher published by a Washington think tank accused China of using forced sterilization, forced abortion and coercive family planning against Muslims in Xinjiang.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler and Stephen Coates)
The University of Manchester has terminated a research project with a state-owned Chinese company with alleged links to human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.
It comes after a parliamentary committee accused China Electronics Technology Group (CETC) of providing technology and infrastructure used in the persecution of the ethnic minority group.
Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had written to the university over its Department of Physics and Astronomy’s research partnership with the company.
“According to credible reports from both Human Rights Watch and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, CETC is one of the main architects of the Chinese government’s surveillance state in Xinjiang, China, providing both technology and infrastructure that is being used for the identity-based persecution of more than one million people, predominantly Uyghur Muslims,” the MP said in his letter.
The Chinese government has been accused of widespread abuse in the northwestern Xinjiang province, including mass internment, slave labour and allegations of forced sterilisation.
China at first denied the existence of the internment areas. It later acknowledged them, but denied any abuses and says the steps it has taken are necessary to combat terrorism and a separatist movement.
The Foreign Affairs Committee is attempting to determine the extent of British involvement with organisations who are implicated in the situation as part of an inquiry.
In his letter, the chair asked the University of Manchester about its partnership with CETC, including whether staff had raised concerns and the university knew about alleged links with Uighur persecution when the relationship was agreed.
Professor Martin Schroder, the university’s vice-president and dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, said the institution has “now taken steps to terminate the current agreement” with CETC while it assesses the relationship.
He said the university had already been reviewing the relationship, after a licence application for a joint project was rejected.
“I also confirm that, as far as I am aware, the university had no prior knowledge of any credible reports stated in your letter, or from any other source, linking CETC’s technology with the persecution of Uyghur Muslims. Your letter is the first to do so,” he told the committee in a letter.
He added: “I confirm that as I am aware no members of staff at the University have raised concerns about the collaboration with CETC38, and no desires have been expressed or steps taken by the University or CETC38 to develop collaboration between these two organisations in the areas of artificial intelligence, big data or advanced materials.”
Mr Tugendhat said he was “pleased” that the university “has decided to suspend its relationship with CETC” following the committee’s intervention.
“Although we welcome the university’s move to withdraw from any further projects with CETC, it is surprising that the university had not been made aware that CETC’s technology was being used to aid the atrocities taking place in Xinjiang detention camps. Our letter was apparently the first they knew of it,” the Tory MP said.
He added: “It remains imperative that British institutions, educational and otherwise, are fully informed of who it is they are working and sharing research with.
“A lack of curiosity could inadvertently lead to some of our most well-respected businesses and universities entering into a relationship which – inadvertently or otherwise – sees them complicit in the systematic abuse of the human rights of the Uyghurs and other minority groups.”
The university said their research collaboration with CETC aimed to “significantly advance the field of radio astronomy”.
“The projects worked towards an objective of disseminating research results in the public domain through publication in academic journals and as is standard in collaborative research projects, results of the work undertaken were shared between the parties in accordance with the terms of the agreement,” Mr Schroder said in his letter to the commitee.
They had already completed one project, had a licence application rejected for a second, and have now withdrawn a third application for a project, he said.
A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “The University is reviewing its collaboration with China Electronics Technology Group Co. Ltd (CETC38) following the rejection of a licence application by the government’s Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) in relation to a specific project with the company.
“This took place in January and predates any correspondence with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Since then, we have taken steps to terminate the current agreement with CETC38 whilst assessing the relationship.”
The spokesperson said the university had recently undertaken more work to address “the potentially complex risks and issues” arising from international research partnerships.
“One of the aims is to provide a strengthened degree of assurance about potential new research partners with the University’s guiding principles, values, missions and goals,” they said.
Myanmar coup: China blocks UN condemnation as protest grows
Aung San Suu Kyi
China has blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the military coup in Myanmar.
The military took power in the South East Asian nation on Monday after arresting political leader Aung San Suu Kyi and hundreds of other lawmakers.
The coup leaders have since formed a supreme council which will sit above the cabinet.
In Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon though, signs of resistance and civil disobedience have been growing.
Doctors and medical staff in dozens of hospitals across the country are stopping work in protest against the coup and to push for Ms Suu Kyi’s release.
The United Nations Security Council met on Tuesday but failed to agree on a joint statement after China did not support it. China has the power of veto as one of five permanent members of the council.
Ahead of the talks, the UN’s Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner, strongly condemned the military takeover which came after the army refused to accept the outcome of general elections held in November.
She said it was clear that “the recent outcome of the election was a landslide victory” for Ms Suu Kyi’s party.
In further criticism, the Group of Seven major economic powers said it was “deeply concerned” and called for the return of democracy.
“We call upon the military to immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically-elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law,” the statement released in London said. The G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.
Why did China block the UN action?
China has been warning since the coup that sanctions or international pressure would only make things worse in Myanmar.
Beijing has long played a role of protecting the country from international scrutiny. It sees the country as economically important and is one of Myanmar’s closest allies.
Alongside Russia, it has repeatedly protected Myanmar from criticism at the UN over the military crackdown on the Muslim minority Rohingya population.
“Beijing’s stance on the situation is consistent with its overall scepticism of international intervention,” Sebastian Strangio, author and South East Asia editor at The Diplomat, told the BBC.
While China does benefit strategically from Myanmar’s alienation from the west, this does not mean that Beijing is happy with the coup, he cautions.
“They had a pretty good arrangement with the NLD and invested a lot to build a relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi. The return of the military actually means that China now has to deal with the institution in Myanmar that historically is the most suspicious of China’s intentions.”
“Through this foreign policy equivalent of gaslighting, China seems to be signalling its tacit support, if not emphatic endorsement, for the generals’ actions,” Myanmar expert Elliott Prasse-Freeman, of the National University of Singapore, told the BBC.
“China seems to be proceeding as if this is Myanmar’s ‘internal issue’ in which what we are observing is a ‘cabinet reshuffle,’ as China’s state media put it.”
While he thinks a UN statement would not have made an immediate difference, it would still serve as “a first step for cohering an international response. That appears to not be forthcoming”.
Where is Aung San Suu Kyi?
Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the now-ousted elected government, has not been seen since she was detained by the military on Monday morning.
Dozens of others also remain detained, including President Win Myint, members of her party’s central committee and her personal attorney. They are reportedly being held under house arrest.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) demanded her immediate release on Tuesday. It has also called upon the military to accept the results of the November election, which saw the NLD win more than 80% of the votes.
Meanwhile, the United States said it had been unsuccessful in contacting the Myanmar military and has formally declared the takeover to be a coup d’etat. This means the US cannot directly assist the government, though most of its assistance goes to non-governmental entities.
The EU, UK, Australia and others have also condemned the takeover.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by the armed forces until 2011, when a nominally civilian government was sworn in.
What is the situation in Myanmar?
Power has been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. Eleven ministers and deputies, including those in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs, were replaced.
In the first meeting of his cabinet on Tuesday, Min Aung Hlaing repeated that the takeover had been “inevitable”.
But on Tuesday evening, car horns and the banging of cooking pots could be heard in the streets of Yangon in a sign of protest.
Activist groups have called for civil disobedience campaigns, setting up a Facebook group to organise their efforts.
Staff at 70 hospitals and medical departments across the country have reportedly stepped away from all non-emergency work.
Hundreds of healthcare workers, including senior doctors, have participated in the “Red Ribbon movement”, with many donning a red ribbon on their clothes to show they were against the coup. Online, many changed their social media profile pictures to one of just the colour red.
Myanmar is a country of 54 million people in South East Asia which shares borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand and Laos.
It was ruled by an oppressive military government from 1962 to 2011, leading to international condemnation and sanctions.
Aung San Suu Kyi spent years campaigning for democratic reforms. A gradual liberalisation began in 2010, though the military still retained considerable influence.
A government led by Ms Suu Kyi came to power after free elections in 2015. But a deadly military crackdown two years later on Rohingya Muslims sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to Bangladesh and triggered a rift between Ms Suu Kyi and the international community.
She has remained popular at home and her party won again by a landslide in the November 2020 election. But the military have now stepped in to take control once more.
Peers have inflicted a crushing defeat on the government over its approach to China’s human rights record by voting for a second time to amend a trade bill and give British courts a role in determining whether a country is committing genocide.
Ministers move to stop backbench revolt over UK courts’ role in genocide rulings
Peers on a cross-party basis voted on Tuesday by 359 to 188 – a majority of 171 – to insist the UK courts should be handed this new role, and the issue will now go back to the Commons next week. Ministers oppose the measure.
The government suffered a major backbench rebellion in the Commons on the proposal last month when its majority was cut from 80 to 11, and it will now face another knife-edge vote.
Peers had first voted in December by a majority of 126 to give the courts a role in determining genocide, so the tide is flowing against the government in the Lords.
The votes come as a growing phalanx of Tory MPs demand the UK takes a tougher stand over China’s suppression in Hong Kong and its treatment of Uighurs. The issue also raises wider moral questions about how ministers will be held to account if they seek to sign post-Brexit free trade agreements that ignore human rights.
Lord Alton, an independent peer, urged the Lords to give the high court a role, saying his narrow and specific measure was “neither a futile gesture or virtue signalling”. He cited a number of senior lawyers who have said the UK courts are competent to determine whether a genocide is under way under the Genocide Convention.
Alton added that the international criminal courts are not able to make such determinations about China’s treatment of the Uighurs due to the Chinese ability to veto any such reference.
He has adjusted his genocide amendment to meet objections that the original proposal required the government to act on any high court determination.
Ministers, on the back foot, have been trying to find a concession that keeps the issue of genocide away from the national courts, arguing the judges do not want such a role, it could weaken the separation of powers and its rulings could cause diplomatic difficulties. The British courts can already find individuals guilty of genocide.
UK free to make trade deals with genocidal regimes after Commons vote
In a last-minute letter to peers sent on Tuesday, Lord Grimstone, the trade minister, suggested the foreign affairs select committee could pronounce whether a country is committing genocide, and could prompt a Commons debate.
The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, discussed this proposal with the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Tom Tugendhat, on Monday, and the proposal faced criticism from the Committee on Tuesday, partly due to the fact its powers to subpoena witnesses are limited and the concession was not presented in the form of a formal amendment to the trade bill.
Lord Blencathra, a former Conservative cabinet minister, said the idea that a select committee, meeting for a couple of hours a week, could be better thanthe high court taking evidence day after day was “for the birds”. He added “whatever the select committee decided, the government can ignore it”.
He said the Foreign Office’s thinking on genocide was trapped in the past decade and urged the prime minister to take a personal look and realise that the department’s old policy on genocide was no longer sustainable.
Lady Kennedy, the Labour peer and human rights barrister, said the world was watching whether the UK “could change the ecology of law by making genocide have serious meaning in our contemporary world”.
Women detained within Uighur internment camps in China’s Xinjiang province have experienced mass rape, sexual abuse and torture, it has been reported.
According to the BBC, a number of former detainees and a guard have come forward to speak about what they experienced and saw within the camps, which China says are to “re-educate” Uighurs and other minorities.
The testimonies detail the traumatic abuse women went through while in the camps, described by Adrian Zenz, a leading expert on China’s policies in Xinjiang, as “some of the most horrendous evidence I have seen since the atrocity began”.
He told the BBC: “This confirms the very worst of what we have heard before. It provides authoritative and detailed evidence of sexual abuse and torture at a level clearly greater than what we had assumed.”
One of the former detainees, Tursunay Ziawudun, said that in her nine months spent in the camps, she was tortured and gang-shaped on three occasions, by two or three men each time.
Another woman, Gulzira Auelkhan, who was detained for 18 months, told the broadcaster she was forced to strip other women naked and restrain them “so they cannot move”, before leaving them alone with Chinese men.
She said she would sit “silently next to the door, and when the man left the room I took the woman for a shower”, adding that the men would “pay money to have their pick of the prettiest young inmates”.
When asked if there was a system of organised rape within the internment camps, she said: “Yes, rape.”
China has been roundly condemned for its treatment of Muslim Uighurs. In January, Washington accused the ruling Chinese Communist Party of committing genocide and crimes against humanity for “arbitrary imprisonment” of more than a million people, torture and forced labour.
Last year, Mr Zenz published a report accusing China of using forced sterilisation, forced abortion and coercive family planning against minority Muslims – allegations which Beijing has said were groundless and false.
The report was corroborated by Ms Ziawudun, who told the BBC that women detainees were forcibly fitted with IUDs or sterilised. They also underwent “unexplained medical tests, took pills and were forcibly injected every 15 days with a ‘vaccine’ that brought on nausea and numbness”.
A guard, who spoke to the BBC on the condition of anonymity, said he was “sure” that the detainees he brought into the camp “definitely experienced various types of torture”.
He said he did not know anything about rape, but said the camp guards used “electrocuting instruments” on the detainees, who were forced to make “confessions” to perceived offences.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denied the testimonies in the report, telling Reuters that it “is wholly without factual basis” and accused the people interviewed by the BBC of having been “proved multiple times” to be “actors disseminating false information”.
Beijing has strongly denied and rejected accusations of abuse in the “re-education” camps and has said the purpose of the camps is to provide vocational training and help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism, and to teach the Uighur people new skills.
In a statement to the broadcaster, a spokesperson insisted the Xinjiang camps were not detention camps but “vocational education and training centres”.
She added that the Chinese government “protects the rights and interests of all ethnic minorities equally”, and that it “attaches great importance to protecting women’s rights”.