Out of the eleven million Uyghurs living in Xinjiang in China, between 800,000 and one million people have been detained in Chinese internment camps indefinitely.1 Despite the initial denial by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), leaked documents and first hand accounts detail the repressive policies targeting the Uyghurs. Reportedly, these internment camps permit torture, food deprivation, forced labor, and sterilisation. The PRC now defends these abuses in the name of national security. While evidence has shown that Uyghurs have been increasingly targeted for their cultural and religious practices.
The world is not new to these atrocities. The Holocaust, in addition to the Rwandan, Cambodian, and Rohingya genocide, have stained the past century. However, while other governments commit such atrocities, the PRC plays a unique role. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, they are able to weaken human rights worldwide. They are able to do this while not facing penalties for their violations.
One of the biggest security challenges within the international system is the rise of the PRC on a global scale. Fearing the loss of their own power, the PRC uses its economic prowess to silence its opposition within and beyond their borders. This has led to their policies and actions often undermining the very international system upholding human rights standards.
The Role of the United States
President Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. While it is a step in the right direction, and more than the U.S. did at the beginning of Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia, it may not be enough.
As the PRC poses a significant threat to U.S. hegemony, the U.S. should be inclined to act. One possible approach could be to implement a multilateral and multidimensional approach that deters these atrocities.
The U.S. is uniquely capable of campaigning for multilateral partnerships across the world to increase international pressure on Beijing. However, economic sanctions solely distributed by the U.S., would hurt the Western nation more than the PRC. They would also be relatively ineffective considering the PRC is a top exporting country.
However, the Chinese government cannot maintain its economic dominance if ties across portions of the world are severed. Ideally, the U.S. could partner with Japan, South Korea, or Australia to implement economic penalties or forge military partnerships. This unprecedented global pressure could expedite economic hardship and successfully disrupt PRC supply chains.
In normal circumstances, the UN could be a potential mitigator. However, the PRC vetos all matters detrimental to them, including what constitutes a genocide. The PRC previously used its veto power in regards to human rights violations in Syria and Myanmar. This has showcased their efforts to neglect human rights standards.
Therefore, it is imperative to look at other organisations such as The Uyghur Human Rights Project or World Uyghur Congress to seek institutional change. The gradual progression of international awareness can be accelerated by advocacy from these organisations and other grassroots movements that will force governments worldwide to unite and take action.
Internationally, communities could use the 2022 Olympics as a platform to urge the Olympic Committee to reconsider holding the Olympics in Beijing. Widespread and severe actions must be taken in order to stop genocides. Too often we see the world idly watch and fail. Despite the challenge, world powers should come together and take a stance against nations who do not follow global standards in regards to human rights.