Updated: Aug 28, 2020


Since April 2017, approximately eight hundred thousand to two million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups like Kazakhs and Uzbeks have been arbitrarily detained by the Xinjiang Government in more than 85 identified internment camps. The number of camps and internment facilities to host the detainees has proliferated drastically evidence of which according to Reuters, is that the site on which these camps are built was initially a desert and has now rapidly grown into a complex since 2017 with the increasing expanse of building construction. Further, this arbitrary detention of Muslim ethnic groups along with other Genocidal acts and crimes against humanities committed against them has been brought to the limelight by various activists. However, their efforts towards gathering International support for the issue have been overshadowed by the emergence of the Pandemic. Further, amidst these testing times, the detainees continue to be the most vulnerable due to the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions prevalent in detention camps. The article provides a detailed analysis of the atrocities committed against these communities with special reference to the human rights violations committed on them in the re-education camps.

Protection from Arbitrary Detention:

In August 2018, China had initially denied the allegations imposed upon it by the UN panel (The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination), of secretively detaining at least a million Uyghur Muslims in massive internment camps that resembled a ‘no rights zone’. However, later on account of the various available satellite images of these internment camps, leaked government documents on the same and other eyewitness accounts testifying their presence , a White paper titled-“Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang” was issued by the government, which affirmed the existence of these “re-education centers” (internment camps) but portrayed the “re-education programme” carried out in it as an initiative to combat Terrorism and Religious extremism.

According to The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, detention and deprivation of liberty, in any case, may be said to be arbitrary if:

1. There is no legal justification for the same.

2. Such detention is due to exercise of rights and freedoms granted by articles 7, 13, 14, 18, 19, 10 and 21 of the UDHR and articles 12, 18, 19, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 of ICCPR.

3. The right to a fair trial and judicial review is not granted, thus arbitrarily depriving right to liberty. (Art. 9 ¶¶3-4, ICCPR; Art. 10 UDHR)

The detention of Uyghurs at the re-education centers portrays such arbitrary nature and thus stands in contravention to international human rights instruments which prohibit arbitrary detention (Art. 9, ICCPR; Art. 9, UDHR) and enshrine the Right to liberty and security of persons (Art. 9, ICCPR; Art.3 UDHR).

Detention Due to Exercise of Right to Freedom of Religion, Thought, Conscience and Expression

Freedom of religion thought and conscience as well as right to manifest one’s religion granted by Art. 18 of both ICCPR and UDHR, is also enshrined in Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution. Art. 36(3) of the Constitution being consonant with Art. 18(3) of the ICCPR, however, limits this right to ensure “public order”. Similarly, Freedom of speech, opinion and expression granted by Art. 19 of both ICCPR and UDHR is embedded in Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution but is subject to criminalization under the various provision of Chinese Criminal Law. Also, under Article 20(2) of the ICCPR, States may prohibit “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”, only if the restrictions imposed passes the test of legality, necessity and legitimacy.

a. Xinjiang Regulations on De-extremification:

The“Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulation on De-extremification” under the pretext of extremism that tends to spread radicalistic religious ideologies, incite hatred and advocate violence, prohibits certain speech and actions, which may also form a part of an individual’s right to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching (2017 Regulations, Art. 3 and 9).

Wearing Burqas or veils, which forms a part of the beliefs of Muslim women, is also prohibited under the regulations (also equating the same to extremist symbols). Further, the prohibition is not only limited to public places but also extends to private homes and is thus disproportional to the objective sought to be achieved. Such an action to prevent a person from wearing religious clothing in private or in public spaces may also constitute a violation of the prohibition on coercion that may impair an individual’s freedom to have or adopt a religion as laid down by Article 18 para 2. (Hudoyberganova v. Uzbekistan, ¶ 6.2)

The prohibition on “growing abnormal beards”, which although ambiguous in its wordings, tends to target the practice of Muslim men of not shaving, with the intent to prevent ‘religious fanaticism.’ With similar intent of religious suppression, selecting Islamic names is also prohibited under the garb of restriction to select “irregular” names. Another such prohibition is distorting, generalizing or expanding and mutating the concept of Halal (lawful or permitted food in Islam) into social life and other areas which targets the practice of Halal on the pretext of interfering with the ‘secular life of others’ [ Article 9 subclause (vi), (vii), (viii)].